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Higher Education Update

Volume 546: debated on Monday 11 June 2012

On 28 June 2011, the Government published a higher education White Paper, “Students at the Heart of the System”. This was followed on 4 August 2011 by a technical consultation, “A new fit-for-purpose Regulatory Framework for the Higher Education Sector”. Over 200 responses to the White Paper were received, and over 150 responses to the technical consultation.

We are today publishing the Government response to both consultations. This provides a summary of respondents’ views, and describes the progress Government are making to deliver a strong, financially sustainable and high quality HE sector; promote a better student experience; foster social mobility and widen participation; and create a more responsive higher education sector in which funding follows the decisions of learners and successful institutions are freed to thrive. The response includes an announcement that we will reduce the “numbers” criterion for university title from 4,000 higher education students to 1,000. This will widen access to university title for smaller, high quality providers, and is expected principally to benefit many of the long-established colleges represented by GuildHE.

The White Paper set out proposals for primary legislation to create a new regulatory framework. Many responses to the White Paper stressed that we do not yet know the full effect of the new funding arrangements, which will come into effect for academic year 2012-13. Hence, it cannot be clear what form of regulatory framework will be appropriate. We will therefore not at this stage be introducing changes to primary legislation, but will move our reform agenda forward primarily through non-legislative means.

The Government response also announces that we will arrange for alternative providers, and those FE colleges that do not receive HEFCE funding, to be treated alongside other providers of higher education in being covered by limits on their numbers of publicly-funded students. We will consult later this year on the process for applying these changes. We will also review how existing quality assurance arrangement affect alternative providers, including FE colleges offering HE. We strongly support both existing HE providers and the entry of alternative providers and FE colleges into the HE market, and these measures will create a more level playing field.