Welsh tertiary regulator ‘could be model for England’

Creation of CTER by Welsh government part of shift to ‘rethink the model of post-compulsory education for high participation societies’

November 25, 2021
A couple of tourists admiring view of north powys to illustrate Welsh tertiary regulator ‘could be model for England’
Source: Alamy

Wales’ planned single oversight body for tertiary education could show a path for other nations, given that it is “time to rethink the model of post-compulsory education for high participation societies”, according to the professor whose review initiated the shift.

The Welsh government this month introduced legislation to create the Commission for Tertiary Education and Research (CTER) – a plan that may attract the interest of policymakers in England, where the Westminster government’s rhetoric increasingly focuses on joining up further and higher education as it envisages a system of lifelong loans as part of its “levelling-up” agenda.

CTER, scheduled to be established as an independent Welsh government-sponsored body by 2023, will be responsible for overseeing the entire post-16 sector, including further education, higher education, apprenticeships, sixth forms and Welsh-government funded research and innovation.

The legislation to create the body follows a 2016 government-commissioned report on the future of the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales, which recommended the development of an “overarching vision” for post-secondary education in Wales, based on “stronger links between education policy, providers and provision, and social and economic goals”, along with the creation of a single tertiary regulatory, oversight and coordinating authority.

“It is time to rethink the model of post-compulsory education for high-participation societies,” said Ellen Hazelkorn, a professor emerita at the Technological University Dublin and the author of that review.

“The objective of CTER is to create an integrated and coherent post-compulsory educational system with pathways and opportunities for all learners, supported by a collaborative network of colleges and universities working together according to their different missions rather than fighting for students and funding.”

A single oversight body for tertiary education also made sense at a time when nations were increasingly devoting more policy attention to those who do not attend university, and thus looking increasingly at developing “more coherent” post-compulsory systems, she added.  

The Welsh bill will give ministers the power to allow CTER to tie funding to outcomes agreements for institutions, potentially directing them towards national strategic priorities, as well as creating conditions of registration for institutions.

In England, the 2019 Augar review of post-18 education, to which the government is yet to offer a final response, recommended that the Office for Students, the English higher education regulator, “should become the national regulator of all non-apprenticeship provision at Levels 4 and above”.

Wrapping sixth forms and research into any English tertiary regulator would be an unlikely move. But beyond that, the Welsh example is “interesting”, said Andy Westwood, professor of government practice at the University of Manchester and a former ministerial adviser on universities and skills under Labour.

“Increasingly I think a single regulator is a good idea in England,” he continued. Further education has “more in common” with higher education than with schools, “especially when you start thinking about skills in the workplace, productivity and big agendas on lifelong learning”.

The OfS and the Education and Skills Funding Agency – which regulates further education, academy schools, sixth forms and training providers – were both “designed at a different time and don’t really work given broader/bigger government agendas on levelling-up and transitioning to a high-wage, high-productivity economy”, Professor Westwood argued.


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Reader's comments (1)

An interesting move that should be closely monitored and could turn out to be the way forward in England, Scotland and Norther Ireland.