TV bidding and BS juries in biggest shake-up since Browne

Just six months after Lord Browne’s landmark review of higher education, and amid growing concern about the cost of the new tuition fee system, the coalition government has radically changed its proposals for university funding.

April 1, 2011

The plans set out today by David Willetts, the universities and science minister, include a raft of new strategies for measuring institutional performance and research excellence.

Under the first proposal, which is based on David Cameron’s “Big Society” idea, a jury-duty system would be used to draft in “normal people” to assess university performance.

The BS juries would be chosen at random from a register of volunteers taking part in other Big Society projects, and would take an overview of each institution’s strengths.

Their conclusions would be added to a score based on a range of metrics, including world university rankings, National Student Survey results, and University and College Union membership rates (with higher scores for lower levels of unionisation).

The final grade would determine the proportion of the block grant allocated each year.

The second idea is to replace the forthcoming research excellence framework with an alternative mechanism for allocating £1.1 billion in annual quality-related (QR) funding.

A sample of researchers from each institution would take part in a televised bidding process, facing a panel of expert assessors.

Mindful of the way in which the cost of subsidising higher tuition fees has spiralled, the Treasury is also understood to have sought advice from Simon Cowell, the reality TV supremo, on funding university research via a system of telephone voting.

Ministers hope the pay-per-vote plans will also allow viewers to direct funding towards research that is likely to have the most obvious “impact” on their daily lives.

The show has been given the working title The QR Factor, and Bruce Forsyth and Steve Smith are being lined up as hosts, roles that may earn both coveted knighthoods.

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