Big Changes in British Higher Education

General discussions concerning institutions and degree programs.

Big Changes in British Higher Education

Postby hierophant » Wed May 18, 2016 4:52 pm

It looks like the UK is once again planning to redesign its higher education system.

The changes are officially described here:

The changes are going to be substantial.

One of the bigger ones is the introduction of something called the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF). This supposedly will measure educational effectiveness at the disciplinary level. I don't know how they propose to accomplish this. They say that it will be patterned off of the current research assessments, used by the funding bodies to direct research funding to the universities. They deny that it implies any kind of French-style national curriculum or loss of academic freedom.

It's accompanied by what appears to be the elimination of the existing British HE accreditor, the QAA in 2017/18. A new QA framework will supposedly roll out in 2018/19.

The new TEF will apparently be both a reputational ranking allowing students and employers to identify where the best instruction is taking place in various subjects, but also a major component of the British HE funding system.

There will be three kinds of institutions (p. 25 box 1.1):

1. Registered - these will presumably all be private institutions, operating legally as domestic British HE providers. They "must match the academic standards as they are described in the Framework for Higher Education Qualifications (FHEQ)." I don't know what this means, but am guessing that it basically means adhering to the format for a bachelors, masters or doctoral degree, but without the on-going scrutiny implied by accreditation. They must also have a students complaints procedure. They won't receive government funding. My impression of this one is that the UK is rolling out a low-end category modeled on the old and now somewhat defunct 'California approved' model.

2. Approved - these will have access to some kinds of government funding. They will be allowed to set their fees at any level. They are required to maintain successful quality assurance through the QAA until 2017/8, and through the new QA framework from 2018/9.

3. Approved - Fee Cap - these will have to agree to cap their fees at some government mandated limit, and in return they will receive additional government funding. They will have to submit to quality assurance as described above.

Here's more highlights (selected and in some cases paraphrased by me) of the new British Higher Education shakeup (from the 'Summary of Decisions' on p. 18). My comments are in bold.

* Replace multiple overlapping HE systems with a single regulator and route into the sector.

* We will move to risk-based regulation which will reduce the regulatory burden upon the sector, except for those providers where special monitoring is needed

* New institutions will be able to compete with quicker entry to the sector.

My impression is the the UK wants to be more like the United States, where a wider variety of institutions offer degrees, and not just traditional state-universities. I suspect that the intent is to do what the New York Regents have been doing, accrediting many very high-profile specialist institutions that offer their own specialized degrees. These include Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Institute, the American Museum of Natural History, the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratories and Christie's Auction House. Britain is filled with organizations that could do that very credibly.

* The bar will continue to be set high on quality

* We will open up access to providers to be able to award their own degrees by introducing greater flexibility to Degree Awarding Powers (DAPs), new probationary foundation and taught DAPs, time-limited granting of DAPs for all new holders...

* We will simplify the granting of DAPs and university title (UT) for English institutions by transferring responsibility for the process from the Privy Council to the Office for Students (OfS).

That's the end of "Royal Charters".

* the creation of the Teaching Excellence Framework.

If entry into the system is going to be made easier, then quality assurance will have to pay more attention to educational effectiveness, to outcomes as opposed to inputs. Funding will be conditional on succeeding at this and it will also produce a reputational score, allowing students and employers to know where the best instruction takes place in various subjects. (I wonder how they will measure that.)

The fear that I have about all of this is that the TEF apparently won't be applicable to all British HE institutions. The 'registered' category of institutions won't have to submit to quality assurance oversight as long as they don't seek government funding. That sounds a lot like 'unaccredited' to me. I suspect that many unknown DL schools will shelter in this status and troll for students internationally while flying the flag of 'respected British university, offering British academic awards, registered with the UK government' and touting whatever minimal oversight they are subject to as the equivalent of 'accreditation' in the US. Maybe the fact that initial DAPs will only be for a limited time will weed the mills out, but if they qualified for DAPs in the first place, I worry it won't.

* We will create the Office for Students (OfS) a new market regulator, in place of HEFCE.

The BPPE of Britain!

* The OfS will be a non-departmental public body. Ministers will be responsible for appointing the Chair, Chief Executive and and non-executive board members.

* The OfS will be funded primarily by registration fees from HE providers.

* The OfS will allocate teaching grant funding and will monitor the financial sustainability, efficiency and health of the sector.

* The OfS will be given a statutory duty to assess the quality and standards of the HE sector.

When the QAA is retired, this (or another body that it spins off from itself) is apparently what will function as Britain's new university accreditor.

* The OfS will have powers to ensure compliance.

Really? Or (being a government body) will every decision be subject to political pressure, endless hearings, appeals and court litigation? Will actually exercising whatever powers the OfS is given become more costly, dangerous and cumbersome than it's worth? State regulators like the BPPE have encountered that, even the regional accreditor WASC did when it took on City College of San Francisco (and lost).

* We will also create UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) a new research and innovation funding body.

A mash-up between the American-style NSF, NIH and a government-run venture capitalist firm?

* UKRI will incorporate the functions of the seven Research Councils, Innovate UK and HEFCE's research funding function.
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