The Prime Minister is said to be in support of the need to introduce new higher education legislation. A consultation paper was released by the UK government on 6th November that could result in a reformed higher education system, with changes proposed to tuition fees, administration, and quality assurance.
It proposes a system by which universities are ranked based on quality of teaching, retention rates, number of employed graduates and student satisfaction. Tuition fees may then rise or decrease accordingly. This would mark the end of the £9,000 tuition fee cap for UK students that has been in place since 2012.
Universities minister Jo Johnson said in a statement “while there is a lot of excellence [in British higher education] there is also, as the sector acknowledges, patchiness and variability in and between institutions”. He also stated that “our ambition is to drive up the quality of teaching in our universities to ensure students and tax payers get value for money and employees get graduates with the skills they need”.
The paper calls for the replacement of at least two existing regulatory agencies – the HEFCE and the OFFA – by a newly created organisation, the Office for Students which would assume the role of quality assurance across the system. This new organisation would see qualified providers of validated degrees become approved universities two to three years earlier than is the case now.
While some goals of the paper will include helping institutions improve their teaching and help employers identify and recruit graduates, there has been concern among students regarding the relationship between teaching quality and fees. Megan Dunn, President of the National Union of Students has stated that: “the teaching excellence framework should not be linked to an increase in tuition fees. Students should not be treated like consumers”.
Nick Hillman, the Director of the Higher Education Policy Institute and former special adviser to Lord Willets when he was Universities and Science Minister, has commented on David Cameron’s announcement, stating that: “the prime minister wading into the social mobility debate and using the words ‘we will legislate’ did, I think, make a higher education bill more likely”.
“All my indications are that Sajid Javid [the business secretary] does see it as the number one legislative ask from BIS [the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills], which will mean it is taken more seriously in the Cabinet Office and elsewhere”.
He went on to add that he expected the bill to be passed over the next year saying he would be “surprised if there wasn’t a higher education bill in the next Queen’s Speech” in May.