Red tape cut to set market free

November 1, 2002

Ministers will slash university regulation under plans to let market forces drive higher education.

Announcing the creation of a red-tape task force this week, higher education minister Margaret Hodge said that it would "drive forward real reform in removing bureaucracy in higher education". David VandeLinde, vice-chancellor of Warwick University, will chair the group.

Ms Hodge said the task force would go further than a Cabinet Office report on university regulation, published in the summer. The report, Higher Education: Easing The Burden , says that there may be no need for institutional quality-assurance audits if higher education is turned over to the free market.

Students, it says, will in effect provide the quality assurance themselves through informed choice. Universities providing poor-quality education will find it difficult to recruit students, forcing them to improve.

The report also says that a lack of trust between government and institutions is creating layers of unnecessary regulation that are damaging teaching and research.

Despite there being little evidence of poor quality, universities face "multiple audits, excessive data requirements and over-restrictive funding", it says.

Professor VandeLinde said that, while he had had no meetings with Ms Hodge to set his group's remit, complete laissez faire was unlikely. "It is a question of balance, not either or," he said.

Ms Hodge, who is committed to freeing the market in higher education, said:

"We are proving that we are offering universities something back in return for their willingness to reform.

"Appointing Professor VandeLinde is the first step towards slashing red tape in the higher education sector, which has been a bugbear for many universities for years."

The Department for Education and Skills stressed Professor VandeLinde's experience of America, where institutions charge market-rate tuition fees and where regulation is much lighter.

The Quality Assurance Agency said it would fully cooperate with the task force, which begins work early next year.

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