Well, CHEE, anyway.
At a time when HEFCE are consulting on the future of future of quality assurance in the HE sector, and have invited views on a discussion document:
The discussion document contains questions on quality assessment that aim to stimulate wide-ranging discussion and debate on important high-level issues. Its purpose is to explore the deep, critical questions that need to be addressed before the more practical issues surrounding the design and implementation of any new quality assessment arrangements can be considered.
In the second consultation document we will set out clear options for the scope of future quality assessment activities. This will cover the way in which these are underpinned by the powers provided through the statutory and other duties of the funding bodies.
and large numbers of staff at my institution will be spending half a day grappling with the questions in the review, then Universities UK have published their own report calling for changes to HE regulation.
Key recommendations from the report include:
A new approach for protecting the student interest in the rare event of institutional or course closure
The establishment of a register of approved higher education providers, giving the current higher education register greater regulatory status
The establishment of a new Council for Higher Education for England, evolved from the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), which would lead and coordinate mechanisms to provide assurance of quality, equity and sustainability in higher education (in addition to its funding role)
The indication that necessary changes should be made to primary legislation in order to implement the proposals in this report
Pam Tatlow of Million+ has commented on the report, saying:
“There are serious doubts about whether any party will consider a higher education Bill to be a high priority early in the life of the next Parliament and much more likely that improvements in regulation or changes to the fee cap will be delivered by statutory instruments rather than primary legislation. However there are risks in arguing that the regulatory role of HEFCE should be expanded.
“HEFCE remains a significant funder in terms of research as well as providing some direct grant for teaching and its funding role could be increased if fees were reduced and direct grant restored. It would be highly unusual for a regulator to have a major role as a funder. Given there are so many unknowns, proposals to extend HEFCE’s regulatory role may be premature.
“It is also difficult to understand the rationale for subsuming the Office of Fair Access into HEFCE bearing in mind the primary legislation that underpins OFFA. An independent access regulator has been supported by all of the main parties and it is unlikely that any proposal to change this will find political favour after the election.”
UUK propose that the remit of CHEE should be
Funding teaching, research and knowledge transfer
Maintaining the register of higher education providers
Applying and monitoring conditions attached to registration (including continuation of responsibilities for ensuring provision is made for assessment of quality) and applying appropriate sanctions where appropriate and necessary
Leading the coordination of higher education regulation
Working in partnership with the sector to develop mechanisms for student protection
In particular on quality assurance, the report proposes that QA:
i. be premised on co-regulation and co-ownership
ii. be responsive to the new environment, particularly the needs of students, and adopt an approach that is risk based and equitable between different providers
iii. represent value for money for its funders and keep regulatory burden to a minimum
iv. continue to form part of a UK-wide system
v. have a clear focus on academic quality assurance rather than other aspects of the full student experience
vi. have effective and appropriate governance and transparency for students and other relevant stakeholders
vii. ensure quality assurance expectations at a European level can continue to be met and the significance of transnational education recognised.
Th report is strongly supportive of the autonomy of higher education institutions, and in particular the principles of co- and self-regulation. While these are defended, and it is noted that equality dies not necessarily mean equity, the sector does need to remain aware of the questions being asked of it by the Competition and Markets Authority and by consumer groups such as Which?.
Clearly as the HE landscape continues to evolve and become more diverse, and in advance of a possible change of government, then reviewing how we regulate and assure HE is critical. The hope must be that any changes to QA are such that they deliver a process that supports enhancement of teaching and learning as well as research, rather than generating a quality “industry” that generates paperwork, but does little to impact on the majority of participants in HE, either staff or students.