On 6 November, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) released its long-awaited Green Paper setting out its intentions to change practices and structures around higher education. The paper, which can be downloaded here, covered a number of topics, introducing many key changes. Its overall emphasis rests on the marketisation of higher education provision, driving up teaching quality to make courses seem more attractive.
- The Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) and the Office for Fair Access (OFFA) are to be merged into a new body called the Office for Students (OfS), functioning as a regulator for universities. OfS will have a responsibility to act in the interests of students by ensuring stable, effective governance of universities and value for money in degree provision, as well as ensuring baseline quality in student learning and experience and widening access to higher education.
- Measures are being introduced to improve teaching quality, primarily the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF). Initially this will be a pass/fail exercise based on successful QAA assessment, but in future will have multiple levels, each allowing a greater rise in tuition fees for qualifying institutions. The TEF will be metric-based and focus on student outcomes, diversity/inclusion, retention and other available data in its first incarnations. Despite opposition to the idea, it seems likely that TEF scores will be linked to the ability of universities to raise their course fees, with a higher grade allowing a higher rise (capped at the rate of inflation).
- Student assessment will be encouraged to use a Grade Point Average (GPA) system, allowing greater distinction to be drawn between students leaving with the same classification of degree.
- Changes will be made to the Research Excellence Framework (REF) to modernise the process and reduce the burden it places on universities.
- New higher education institutions (HEIs) will have a faster, simplified process to become recognised universities with access to funding and no student caps. Processes will also be in place for HEIs to leave the marketplace with minimised impact on students. Plans must be in place to allow students to complete their course elsewhere or receive compensation if a degree course is discontinued.
- Universities may become exempt from Freedom of Information requests, bringing them into line with private higher education providers.
BIS are consulting on the changes laid out in the Green Paper until 15 January 2016. After this point, they will release a White Paper detailing proposed legislation, then, assuming this passes through Parliament, it will become law. These changes are going to affect all research and teaching staff in universities. They will affect all forthcoming students and their families. They will affect some past students through changes to loan repayments! It is imperative they are sensible, proportionate and well-informed. The Society is seeking input from its members on their views towards the proposals, focusing mainly on the Teaching Excellence Framework. You can read a short summary produced by the Royal Society of Biology of the questions in the Green Paper relating to the TEF proposals here. We would be interesting in hearing views on this aspect of the Green Paper or any of its other proposals; please contact firstname.lastname@example.org with your comments. We will be accepting comments until Friday 8 January; after this point the responses received will form the basis of The Society’s submission to BIS.