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January 25, 2012

OK. So we make a bonfire of the higher education bill. Then what?

Question. If the promised higher education bill is toast, then how much of the agenda laid out in the white paper actually remains possible within the existing legislative framework?

Bb

For example:

  • Are there limits to how far David Willetts can push marketisation policies like AAB and core-margin?
  • What can still be done for private providers?
  • How far can HEFCE's remit be changed by reinterpreting existing texts?
  • Can HEFCE stand by while universities go bust, especially the many new universities who are financially vulnerable to the market but were established as higher education corporations?
  • Can HEFCE continue to impose its will on those universities to whom it no longer provides much money?

Answers (and more questions) please in the comments section.

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Comments

I'm hoping for some degree of clarity in the response to the technical consultation which is still due this month.

Then I'm guessing there will be some sort of overall strategy published in lieu of a Bill.

I actually don't see much of a hunger for private sector provision at the moment, as there appears to be evidence that the cost of running a full-time UG degree remains similar across the sector. If we also count the increased cost of regulation for new providers (as DBIS proposed in the white paper), then the profit margin decreases even further, it makes the British higher education sector remarkably unattractive to outsiders and new providers. This is only amplified by the relative strength of the provision already in place.

Research that I carried out with students seeking to apply in 2012 last year suggested that cost-price was irrelevant to the applicant anyway, they were looking for reputation and strength of the course NOT saving three thousand pounds.

The question of course is: Will the government be offering state subsidies for new private providers? With a lack of growth, it appears unlikely that this will come available, and would be too divisive an issue to simply put through the back door through new DBIS guidance.

Who knows?

I think it's interesting how a lot of the reaction to this decision has been presented simply as government shelving plans for opening up the supply side to alternative/private providers. Although some proposals would have supported these sort of reforms, in reality a lot of the BIS technical consultation was actually about ensuring that new entrants to the market would be subject to the same regulatory requirements in terms of quality assurance, student number controls, information for students (eg KIS), compliance with the tuition fee cap and financial sustainability etc. Uncertainty on some of this is a concern, so as Mark suggests, I think they'll now need to be a lot clearer on how this will be dealt with in responding to the technical consultation.

1. No, not really. However he won't have the ability to place limits on the market either

2. Everything needful. They can already be designated for SLC loans, and existing HEIs will validate provisaion for next-to-nothing

3. Not at all. See http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1992/13/section/65

4. No. Forced merger is the only possible solution, just as it always has been in the past.

5. For a while. Old habits die hard

Research that I carried out with students seeking to apply in 2012 last year suggested that cost-price was irrelevant to the applicant anyway, they were looking for reputation and strength of the course NOT saving three thousand pounds.

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