The Telegraph brought the news – American-backed private universities plan dropped.

I expect there to be a great deal of whooping and rejoicing in the HE sector at this news, but it would not be wise. As I predicted a couple of weeks ago, I suspect the Government have finally realised that they do not need to legislate to make any of the major changes that were proposed in the White paper.

Raising the tuition fee cap needed legislation, but that is now done. All the other changes can be made by the Secretary of State, or are just not in the gift of Government.

Lets have a look at what has been “dropped”:

“The new legislation was designed to make it easier for private colleges, including big American education firms, to set up new universities in Britain.”

They still can, nobody can stop and American university, or from anywhere else for that matter, from setting up a campus and delivering their courses in the UK. This hasn’t really been feasible in the past because Government grants to public universities has forced private providers out of the market. £9K fees at public universities now make the UK a more hospitable environment for overseas and private providers.

“State loans would have been offered to those attending the new private colleges. Under-performing universities would effectively have been allowed to go bankrupt and be replaced by more successful institutions.”

They still can be. The Secretary of State can instruct the Student Loans Company to make these loans to students. I think the suggestion has been that the State will offer up to £6K for students to go private, they can make up the rest themselves.

“it is understood that the Prime Minister is unwilling to embark on radical reform of another public service while facing battles on the reorganisation of the NHS, schools and welfare.”

The radical reform has already been made. There is not much else the Government can do.

“The legislation was to have two primary purposes: to expand the number of degree-awarding bodies and beef up the regulation of the sector.”

Unless Willetts was aiming for a repeat of the Further and Higher Education Act 1992, and granting university status to all providers operating in the UK (which I very much doubt), this again did not require legislation.

Under Privy Council  guidance, implemented by the Quality Assurance Agency, any organisation has the right to apply for degree awarding powers. The process is quite tough, but it does not exclude any particular kind of provider. It is therefore not necessary to legislate. If the Government wanted to loosen the guidance, to make it easier for new providers to apply, it could do so without legislation.

Beefing up the regulation of the sector? Already happening! The acceptance that OFFA ought to have more authority and clout; HEFCE’s strategic change to ‘student champion’; the growing role and authority of the OIA; and the extension of QAA’s role through compulsory educational oversight of any institution recruiting overseas students and changes to established review methods are changing the way the sector is regulated. (I would argue that it is a realignment of regulation rather than beefing-up, but I’ll save that for another day and another blog post)

So put away your champagne bottles. Today nothing changed!


One response »

  1. […] lot of huffing and puffing from the sector and the media when this did not happen. It was never going to, it was only a matter of time before BIS Civil Servants worked that […]

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