That is according to a Universities UK report that says the present “regulatory landscape is becoming increasingly complex and difficult to understand, with no clear guiding strategy or leadership to shape its future direction”.
The report, written by a UUK regulation task group chaired by Simon Gaskell (pictured above), president and principal of Queen Mary University of London, singles out the growth in private providers, saying “it is important to be confident that all providers can give robust assurances on the quality and sustainability of their offer”. It adds: “Without a clear and strategic response to these challenges there is a risk that the hard won reputation of – and trust in – higher education will be eroded.”
The UUK report, titled Quality, Equity, Sustainability: The Future of Higher Education Regulation, recommends that “a register be established to act as the gateway into the sector for all higher education providers, setting out clear and robust entry requirements and providing greater clarity for students and other constituencies on the assurances they can expect”.
It says another goal should be “meeting the need for more effective leadership and strategic oversight of the regulatory system, through a new lead regulator, the Council for Higher Education England (CHEE)”.
The report envisages that the Higher Education Funding Council for England should “evolve” to take on the CHEE’s responsibilities.
And it calls for a “new approach for protecting the student interest in the event of institutional or course closure. This would involve CHEE taking on a role to facilitate continuity of provision and to protect the public and student interest, alongside requirements for institutions to develop their own plans for how they would manage the student interest in such instances.”
The final recommendation is that “necessary changes should be made to primary legislation in order to implement the proposals in this report, particularly the role and powers of CHEE and to give the proposed register appropriate regulatory status”.
Professor Gaskell said that it “should be recognised that over recent years, there have been a number of significant changes to the funding of higher education and to the number of providers offering courses. Regulation of the sector needs to keep pace with these developments if confidence, and our international reputation, are to be maintained.”
Pam Tatlow, chief executive of Million+, said: “There are serious doubts about whether any party will consider a higher education bill to be a high priority early in the life of the next parliament and much more likely that improvements in regulation or changes to the fee cap will be delivered by statutory instruments rather than primary legislation. However, there are risks in arguing that the regulatory role of Hefce should be expanded.
“Hefce remains a significant funder in terms of research as well as providing some direct grant for teaching and its funding role could be increased if fees were reduced and direct grant restored. It would be highly unusual for a regulator to have a major role as a funder.”