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June 28, 2011

Universities White Paper – A Quick Summary

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Written by: Kyle Raffo

A look at the government’s proposed changes to higher education in England, as it is due to publish a White Paper setting out ministers’ vision for the future of the sector.

The document will set the landscape for higher education as tuition fees rise to up to £9,000 per year.

Competition and student numbers

  • The White Paper aims to create a “more dynamic sector in which popular institutions can grow and where all universities must offer a good student experience to remain competitive”
  • Details have not yet been announced officially, but universities are expected to be allowed to expand the number of students they take with the grades AAB or higher
  • Universities charging fees below a certain threshold – perhaps £6,000 or £7,500 – are also likely to be allowed to increase their numbers
  • Universities are likely to have to bid for a proportion of students, at least partly on the basis of the lowest tuition fee price they offer, rather than simply being given a quota of places they can fill
  • An overall cap on the numbers of students who will receive government-funded loans is expected to be retained
  • The Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) will “have a new role as promoter of a competitive system”

New providers

  • Legislation to ensure “that all HE [higher education] providers can secure government support via students loans on an equal footing, so long as they meet common quality standards” will aim to remove entry barriers for new providers
  • There may be changes to the types of body that can be granted degree-awarding powers

Student experience

  • Universities will have to publish directly comparable data for prospective students on 16 areas – including teaching hours, accommodation costs, and employment rates and future salaries of graduates by course
  • Data will also be published, by course, showing the qualifications held by previously successful applicants
  • Universities will be “encouraged” to publish information about the teaching qualifications and expertise of teaching staff
  • Universities will be expected to publish online reports of student surveys of lecture courses, “aiding choice and stimulating competition between the best academics”
  • Universities and colleges will have to publish details of how they spend tuition fee income
  • There will be fewer routine inspections of universities for quality, but more powers for inspections to be triggered if students raise concerns about teaching standards
  • Measures will be taken to make graduates more employable, such as working with employers to develop and “kitemark” courses, boosting enterprise skills training for students, and reviewing university-industry collaboration – including seeking to reverse the decline in sandwich courses offering a year in industry

Social mobility

  • The Office of Fair Access (Offa) will have its resources increased and monitor the plans and targets universities must set for attracting students from disadvantaged backgrounds if they want to charge more than £6,000 fees
  • The head of Offa will report to government this autumn about further sanctions and powers to support the body in its work
  • Offa “will continue to have a duty to protect academic freedom, including an institution’s right to decide who to admit and on what basis”

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