How do we ensure quality in an expanding HE system?

The higher education system in England is changing at an unprecedented rate. University Alliance is looking at how the higher education sector can best manage this mass of change.

Read our report

Our report considers what kind of quality assurance system is going to be fit for this more complex new world of expanding higher education. Quality assurance does, and should, sit within a broader framework for regulation of providers.

This paper primarily focuses on quality assurance rather than the wider regulatory system. We have set out nine recommendations for the future of the quality assurance system in England.

Image by Dave Herholz

Image by Dave Herholz

  1. An HE Bill should be introduced as soon as possible; this should be a priority for whatever Government is in power after the 2015 General Election. Our view is that there should be a single regulatory body for all HE providers in England, commissioning the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) to undertake quality assurance across the system.
  1. The risk-based quality assurance system is yet to be fully implemented, and a lot is resting on it. It needs to be monitored carefully to ensure that risks are being correctly identified and addressed.
  1. The sector and regulatory bodies need to look at where the risks might be, for example: collaborative arrangements, changing corporate structures, HND/ HNC provision in providers with a relatively short track-record in working within the UK HE quality assurance system; and respond accordingly.
  1. The sector should move with all speed towards parity of information from different providers. Otherwise we risk compromising quality assurance and enhancement, as well as effective student choice.
  1. Students in the great majority of alternative providers do not have access to external complaints moderation. This is not fair and requires legislative attention.
  1. Again, on the subject of rights and protections for students, the sector as a whole needs to continue to plan for institutional and programme failure and how these will be managed, in order to protect the interests of students.
  1. Fair admissions needs protecting – no-one wants to see students coming in who are unable to benefit from HE – but we need to avoid blunt policy responses. We do not support the introduction of centrally-imposed minimum entry requirements.
  1. There is a need for creative thinking around further ways to support retention. When data allows, the funding system should be adjusted to provide further incentives.
  1. Finally, quality costs. Others have warned of the risks to quality of uncapping the sector if funding doesn’t follow. University Alliance will be publishing next month proposals to set the HE system on a sustainable long-term funding system. Last week we argued in our report on social mobility in HE, Closing the Gap, the need to increase Student Opportunity funding to ensure that students from non-traditional backgrounds succeed.


Further reading