Will the Higher Education and Research Bill increase student choice?
This is a draft text for submission to the Committee stage of the HE Bill. If you would like to comment and help us improve this piece, please leave a comment at the end. The deadline for submissions is 18 September, with the first meeting of the Committee on 6 September.
There are two publicly stated professed aims of the HE Bill. These are to increase social mobility and to increase student choice.
The HE Bill proposes to increase student choice by making it easier for students to move between institutions during their course of study, and by permitting private providers to enter the sector.
This briefing attempts to identify whether the net effect of the HE Bill, in the current context of HE funding policy and the actual behaviour of universities in the face of current funding and legislative frameworks, will be to increase student choice.
Note that it is not a given that markets always operate to increase the diversification of offerings, nor is it a given that deregulation increases choice.
1. Student transfers between universities
Currently very few students exercise this option. The Higher Education Statistics Agency recently reported figures available for 2013-14 (the most recent figures available). Out of some 400,000 UK undergraduates, fewer than 7,000 students – below 2% – transferred to another university mid-degree.
There are a number of connected reasons why this figure is low and is likely to remain low, irrespective of the intentions of the Government.
- Academic coherence. Many university courses, by their very nature, are unique to the institution. They are developed by academics working at the frontier of a particular field. An architecture student transferring between one university and another may have been taught in a different way according to different principles. Mathematics curricula differ in the order of presentation of material, and a student who missed precursor modules may require remedial teaching. There is no national curriculum for Higher Education, nor can or should there be.
After the HE Bill 2nd Reading, beware market failure
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Despite the threats Higher Education faces from Brexit, and opposition from across the sector, the Government appears to be committed to pushing ahead with its disastrous Higher Education and Research Bill.
This can only be explained by the Government’s desire to expand the role of ‘alternative providers’ – i.e. private education companies – into the sector, which is clearly the Bill’s main purpose. To this end, quality assurance bodies and regulations will be abolished and the hurdle for attaining university status drastically lowered, allowing private firms – whether existing ones or new ones backed by venture capital – to receive government-backed fees and loans. Meanwhile, provisions are made for the ‘market exit’ of universities, either because they will be undercut as private firms cherry-pick cheap-to-provide courses and provide second-rate student experiences, or because private ventures will themselves collapse. Continue reading
Parliament has opened its call for evidence for the Committee stage of the HE Bill, with a deadline of 18 September 2016 for submission of evidence. Early submission prior to Tuesday 6 September is ideal, as this date will be the first date the Public Bill Committee meets. See below for how to submit this evidence.
Do you have relevant expertise and experience or an interest in the Higher Education and Research Bill which is currently passing through Parliament? If so, you can submit your views in writing to the House of Commons Public Bill Committee which is going to consider this Bill.
Higher Education and Research Bill 2016
Summary of the Higher Education and Research Bill
The Higher Education and Research Bill 2016 implements the legislative proposals in the White Paper and seeks to bring forward a range of measures with the aim of increasing competition and choice in the higher education sector, raising standards and strengthening capabilities in UK research and innovation.
In order to help colleagues lobby their MPs for the Second Reading of the HE Bill, we have collated some example letters below.
Please do write/rewrite in your own words! Letters that are written in this way are more likely to be read. We have also highlighted parts of the text you should change.
These are written by/for Higher Education staff. But you should be able to adapt them, whether you are a student, a parent, or a school or FE teacher.
Note that due to devolution, the impacts – and the perceived impacts – are likely to differ across the four nations. So we have drafted different letters.
The Government is rushing the HE Bill through to its Second Reading in the House of Commons.
The Second Reading has been called, at very short notice, for Tuesday 19 July.
The NUS, UCU London Region and other organisations are coordinating an emergency protest in Parliament Square, expected to start at noon.
Emergency Protest against the HE Bill
Tuesday 19 July, Westminster
Assemble 12 Noon, Parliament Square (Westminster Tube)
Called by London Region UCU, NUS, FACE, NCAFC and others
We will publish more information on this page as it becomes available.
The decision to rush this Bill through its Parliamentary stages is despite the current political turmoil created by Brexit, and the economic uncertainty facing the HE sector as a whole. Our analysis is that the HE Bill will compound, rather than solve, the Brexit problems facing universities.
Urgent action: Write to your MP
Notes for lobbying your MP Continue reading
Posted in event, HE BIll
Tagged "second reading", brexit, devolution, he, higher education, lobby, mp, privatisation, protest, research, TEF, university
London Metropolitan University (LMU) is in the process of enthusiastically transforming itself into something approaching the White Paper Ideal. Whereas most VCs are expressing serious objections to the reduction of teaching to the TEF, one VC stands out in its support: John Raftery, Vice Chancellor of LMU. The newly-appointed Chair of Governors is a Senior Vice President, Global Growth at Pearsons.
We are beginning to see what this means in practice.
This last year has seen the closure of much of the existing campus and the announcement of over 100 job losses, including the Chair and Secretary of the local UCU branch, Mark Campbell and David Hardman. This was followed up in June by a further announcement of 395 job losses for 2016-17, an astounding third of staff, to be replaced by ultra-casualised lecturers on zero-hour contracts.
David and Mark found out today that their appeals against redundancy were not upheld. Colleagues are encouraged to sign the open letter to the Times Higher and take other actions in their support.
London Met is a test case. Disposing of out-spoken union representatives is clearly an advantage as the university seeks to move to this ultra-casualised, speculative teaching business model – and potentially, full privatisation of the university.
You have been warned…
Reinstate Mark and David: Say ‘NO’ to victimisation of union reps
We sadly have to report to colleagues that we (David Hardman and Mark Campbell) have been unsuccessful in our appeals against redundancy from our positions at London Metropolitan University. As you may know, we are the two negotiators for UCU at London Met, being the branch secretary and chair, respectively. David is also the Secretary of UCU London Region and Mark is the Chair of the UCU London Region HE Committee.
The Higher Education and Research Bill 2016 reads quite differently from the government’s White Paper and the Green Paper that preceded it, in terms of ordering and emphasis. The Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) proposals, for example, are not outlined in detail here, but rather are reserved as a policy to be designed by the Office for Students (OfS) to be created by this legislation. As the TEF proposals are not addressed in detail in the Bill they are not covered here, but one should keep in mind that they remain lurking behind the discussion that follows.
The establishment of the OfS and an outline of its functions takes up a large part of Part 1 of the 4-part bill. In sum, the OfS is to establish a register of HE providers, with three different registration categories linked to the fees they can charge. The OfS will decide the initial categories, with the TEF envisioned as feeding into the ongoing categorisation process.
One of the provisions of note is that HE providers are expected to support the OfS via a type of subscription, which raises some conflict-of-interest questions. Should a regulator be financially dependent upon the entities that it categorises? Regulatory bodies in the best practice of most countries are envisioned as being truly independent of the entities they regulate. (Even were this standard practice for some UK regulatory bodies, this does not mean that it remains a good idea – witness the debates about press regulation.)
In a stage further than envisaged in the Green Paper, universities currently regulated by the Privy Council would lose that relationship and instead fall under the sole powers of the OfS. HEFCE and the DFA would be dissolved with these functions taken under the OfS. Although these changes are discussed as setting up “arms-length” regulations, the centralisation of functions and the removal of the Privy Council responsibilities clearly indicate that universities would lose autonomy with regard to their relationship to the government.