There are concerns that leading England’s funding council is a diminished job after suggestions that Sir Alan Langlands may be leaving the role because of its shrinking importance under the new fees and funding system.
Sir Alan will step down as chief executive of the Higher Education Funding Council for England on 30 September to become vice-chancellor of the University of Leeds, it was announced on 25 March.
His departure comes at an important time for Hefce, which the government has tasked with becoming the sector’s chief regulator and “student champion” under its fees and funding reforms.
There are suggestions that Sir Alan felt that the Hefce role was no longer the job he took on in April 2009.
Since then, the coalition government has opted to abolish Hefce-allocated teaching grant in the majority of subjects, replacing it with tuition fee funding routed via the Student Loans Company.
At the same time, the government’s failure to introduce a higher education bill means that Hefce has not been given extra powers to underpin its new regulatory role.
A major concern for the funding council is that once the remaining “old regime” students have left the system, it will have no funding levers - and thus scant authority - over institutions that no longer receive teaching grant and win little research funding.
To cover for the lack of legislation, Hefce has also been tasked with undertaking extra work to come up with regulatory fixes - such as considering ways to attach new conditions to SLC funding.
Andy Westwood, chief executive of GuildHE, said that Sir Alan was being asked to take on extra burdens because of Hefce’s “evolving role and the lack of legislation”.
The salary for the post as head of the quango has been frozen for the past three years at £230,000, below what most senior vice-chancellors would deem to be a high salary.
These factors have raised concerns that the Hefce post may no longer be attractive to the heavy hitters who traditionally have occupied the position: Sir Alan, for example, is a former chief executive of the NHS in England.
David Willetts, the universities and science minister, will appoint his successor based on the advice of Hefce, which will run the recruitment process.
The post is scheduled to be advertised in May.
If Mr Willetts is seeking a figure to spearhead Hefce’s transition into a consumer champion, an appointment from a business or consumer affairs background could be an option.
But Mr Westwood argued that while Michael Gove, the education secretary, has ensured that the heads of quangos and agencies linked to the Department for Education have been “replaced with similar world-view candidates”, this was unlikely to be the style of ministers at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.
“I’d still assume that most applicants will come from inside higher education,” he said, adding that the published job description would “set out the vision” of ministers.