New Higher Education proposals threaten to ‘marketise’ universities

THE GOVERNMENT’S first major policy paper since the election was published on 6th November 2015. The Green Paper, titled ‘Fulfilling Our Potential: Teaching Excellence, Social Mobility and Student Choice’, concerns Higher Education and was published by the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills.

Photo - Tomos Nolan

Photo – Tomos Nolan

The government says the paper aims to put ‘students at the heart of Higher Education’. According to the MP Jo Johnson, the Minister for Universities and Sports, the paper’s proposals aim to: raise teaching standards, emphasising graduate employability; focus on better support for disadvantaged students; ‘open up’ the Higher Education market to give students more choice.

One key proposal of the paper is merging two of the offices the Higher Education Funding Council for England and the Office for Fair Access to create the Office for Students, and many are concerned about the level of government influence if this office is created. The Paper also commits to a continuation of quality related research funding, but it is less clear about who is distributing the funding once the Office of Students is established.

There are also proposals for the introduction of the Teaching Excellence Framework, which would create differentiated fee caps according to different levels of TEF awards. Beyond the first year of the TEF there is to be “three or four” different award levels, each resulting in a different fee cap from 2018-19 onwards. Universities will also be encouraged to adopt a US style grade point average system of degree classification, which will be among the evidence used to consider progressing universities to higher TEF levels.

New providers are also to be given “quicker access to student funding”, and are able to become universities and have degree awarding powers faster – to create more choices for students.

Universities are also required to have “contingency” plans for students in the event of financial failure.

There are many concerns over these new proposals and one of the most vocal opposers of the paper has been the group, National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts. The NCAFC has said, if the governments series of changes are implemented, it would ‘further entrench the marketisation of universities’, and have expressed concern over the possibility of raising fees without passing a vote in Parliament. They also criticised the government of treating students as ‘consumers’.

The University and College Union has also expressed concern over the proposals, particularly to do with the introduction of a TEF. The UCU even warned the Government to ‘step back’ from plans to allow more for-profit companies easier access to the higher education sector, particularly, it said, after ‘scandals surrounding quality of courses and the misappropriation of taxpayers’ money’.

This Green Paper is open for consultation until 15th January 2016, and there are hopes that the university sector will help dilute the proposals before they become legislation.