New Prime Minister and Cabinet
This month saw the former Home Secretary, Theresa May MP, take office as Prime Minister. The Week offered a round-up of her views on key policies, while Times Higher Education considered what her ascendancy might mean for HE.
The resulting reshuffle saw several changes affecting the education sector. Crucially, Jo Johnson MP will continue as Minister for Universities and Science, with responsibility for shepherding the current Higher Education and Research Bill through Parliament. However, the most significant change sees responsibility for higher education moved back to the Department for Education, while research and science will continue to be the purview of BIS’s successor department, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). Consequently, Jo Johnson will be splitting his time between the two departments. Justine Greening MP is the new Secretary of State for Education, while Greg Clark MP (himself the Universities Minister for a year before the last election) will head up BEIS as the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. Most of the Department-formerly-known-as-BIS’s civil servants with responsibility for higher education are expected to move directly over to the Department for Education, including the entire Alternative Providers team.
HE Bill receives second reading
This month has seen significant legislative progress made on the Higher Education and Research Bill. The Bill has received its second reading with a comfortable government majority of 294 votes to 258. This vote was preceded by a five and a half hour long debate in which 40 different MPs gave their views. As the new Education Secretary, Justine Greening opened for the Government and spoke in support of the Bill. Responding for the opposition, Gordon Marsden, Labour’s Shadow Minister for Higher Education, Further Education, and Skills, focused on the limits of the TEF’s metrics, as well as its proposed link to fees. He also requested that the Bill be paused or postponed in order to assess the impact of Brexit, an argument echoed by several Labour MPs.
Subsequent to the debate, details for the Public Bill Committee stage – where a Bill is expected to receive the most detailed scrutiny from parliamentarians – have been announced. The first meeting will be on 6 September 2016, when Independent HE’s Chief Executive Alex Proudfoot is due to give evidence, and the Committee is expected to report no later than 18 October 2016. The committee will scrutinise the Bill line-by-line, and consider amendments proposed by MPs and also by outside organisations. Once amended, the Commons will once again debate the Bill in its entirety for the third reading.
A full account of the debate can be read on WonkHE.com here, with further commentary here. The Times Higher Education covered the bill’s second reading here. Independent Higher Education produced a briefing for MPs on the second reading of the Higher Education and Research Bill, which you can view on our website here.
CMA releases consumer protection review of higher education
Following advice to the HE sector which the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) published in March 2015, and a compliance review undertaken in October 2015, the CMA has now published a report on consumer law compliance in the HE sector, as well as publishing an open letter which it is sending to HE providers setting out the action it expects them to take. A press release on the report is here. The report has concluded that, despite some good progress, some HE providers still have work to do to ensure they are fully complying with their consumer protection law obligations. It highlights examples of non-compliance, as well as highlighting concerns about the length of time it is taking some HE providers to complete their own internal compliance review and where necessary implement changes.
List of Eligible Providers for TEF Year One Award
As we highlighted in an 8 July newsflash to members, the Government has published the provisional list of eligible providers for the TEF Year One Award. As stated in the Higher Education White Paper released in May, all HE providers who have a current successful quality review will be eligible to receive a rating of “Meets Expectations” in the first year of the Teaching Excellence Framework. The provisional list of eligible providers can be found in full here.
New Specific Course Designation Guidance for Alternative Providers
The Government has published the new course designation guidance for alternative higher education providers this month. The new document, which details the guidance for providers on the criteria and conditions for specific course designation, can be read in full here. The key change, which Independent Higher Education has lobbied for, is that for providers who are already designated it is now a simple, straightforward and quick process to register new locations and courses at any time during the year (see p. 19 of the Guidance).
TEF technical consultation and call for evidence on accelerated courses and switching providers
This month Independent HE responded to the technical consultation on year two of the TEF – you can view our response online here. The Department for Education’s TEF team will be digesting the responses to the consultation over the summer and has promised to report its findings in September.
We also responded to BIS’s call for evidence on accelerated courses and switching university or degree. You can view our response online here.
Commentary: HESA data release on alternative providers
On 7 July, WonkHE.com published a blog by Independent HE’s Policy and Public Affairs Manager, Joy Elliott-Bowman, titled ‘Understanding the alternative HE sector: the first HESA release’. The article comments on HESA’s publication on 15 June of an ‘Experimental Statistical First Release’ on Higher Education Student Enrolments and Qualifications Obtained on Undergraduate Designated Courses at Alternative Providers in England 2014/15. The full blog post is online here.
Ministerial statement: fee loan uplifts with TEF
On 21 July Jo Johnson released a ministerial statement announcing that, following lobbying on this issue by Independent HE, maximum tuition fee loans for higher education courses at alternative providers that have achieved a TEF rating of Meets Expectations will be increased by forecast inflation (2.8%) to £6,165 in 2017/18. The relevant text of the statement is as follows:
Tuition fee loans for higher education courses at private providers.
For all new students and eligible continuing students who started their full-time courses on or after 1 September 2012 and are undertaking courses at private higher education providers that have achieved a TEF rating of Meets Expectations, the maximum fee loan will be increased by forecast inflation (2.8%) to £6,165 in 2017/18. For private providers that have not achieved a TEF rating of Meets Expectations, the maximum fee loan for full-time courses will be £6,000, the same as in 2016/17.
For all new students and eligible continuing students who started their part-time courses on or after 1 September 2012 and are undertaking courses at private providers that have achieved a rating of Meets Expectations, the maximum fee loan will be increased by forecast inflation (2.8%) to £4,625 in 2017/18. For private providers that have not achieved a TEF rating of Meets Expectations, the maximum fee loan for part-time courses in 2017/18 will be £4,500, the same as in 2016/17.
The statement also announces that “for publicly funded providers that have achieved a TEF rating of Meets Expectations and have an access agreement with the Office for Fair Access (OFFA), the maximum tuition fee cap for full-time courses will be £9,250 in 2017/18”. The statement was released a day after multiple press outlets reported that universities had supposedly prematurely advertised the rate of £9,250. It is possible for MPs to ‘pray against’ the statutory instrument which will follow this ministerial statement in order to force a vote on the issue, and the Liberal Democrats have indicated their intention to attempt this, but the reality is that the government has a very comfortable majority, because this is an England-only issue on which only English MPs can vote.
Sainsbury Review of Vocational Education
On 8 July, the DfE and BIS published the Sainsbury Review of Vocational Education, together with their response, the Post-16 Skills Plan, which accepts the recommendations of the Sainsbury Review and sets out plans for wide-ranging reforms to technical and professional education. The Review proposes significant changes to post-16 education by abolishing over 20,000 vocational qualifications with 15 new technical education pathways. Students will have to choose between the ‘academic’ route to university or the ‘technical’ route at the age of 16, and will no longer be able to take a mix of academic and vocational qualifications. Instead, there will be options for ‘bridging’ qualifications between the two separate routes. WonkHE.com offers an overview of the proposals and their wider implications for HE.
- On 29th July 2016