A review of all higher education funding agencies was formally announced today by Lord Mandelson, the First Secretary.
In a speech at the London School of Economics, Lord Mandelson said the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, which is responsible for universities, would “play its part” in public-sector reform.
He announced “a comprehensive review of the role played by national-level institutions such as the Higher Education Funding Council for England, the Skills Funding Agency, the research councils and the Technology Strategy Board, and their relationship to central Government”.
The review will aim to cut “overlapping bureaucracy and duplicated programmes”.
In July, Liam Byrne, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, asked Whitehall departments to review their quangos with a view to their possible merger or abolition.
Lord Mandelson added: “A renewed focus on reform must be a core ingredient in the mix if we are to continue to deliver quality public services in a different climate for public spending.”
The pace of that reform will be accelerated because of the economic crisis, he said.
The peer contrasted new Labour’s “invest-and-reform” policy with the Conservatives’ “thinly disguised zeal” for “deep, savage, indiscriminate across-the-board spending cuts”.
David Cameron, leader of the Conservative Party, has also pledged to cut the number of quangos – and their executives’ pay – if he comes to power.
Hefce is already committed to its own efficiency review this autumn, chaired by Dame Sandra Burslem, former vice-chancellor of Manchester Metropolitan University.
This review will scrutinise Hefce’s policy development and advice; funding administration and policy implementation; regulation of the sector; accountability for public funding; and promotion of good practice.
Hefce said the review will focus on the body’s performance over the past five years and “will not consider wider questions about the existence per se of a body such as Hefce”.
Andrew Haldenby, director of Reform, the free-market think-tank, said in July that responsibility for university funding was a “fundamentally political question”, so Hefce should be taken in-house so that ministers were accountable for such decisions.