Quality of UK HE will be number one issue during expansion

A new report from University Alliance claims that the reputation of higher education in the UK will need more thoughtful safeguarding in an expanding system

In response to David Willetts’ call for the sector to consider how to manage quality in an expanding system, University Alliance has sought to answer that question. The report states that ensuring quality across the higher education sector will quickly rise to the top of the agenda for an expanding higher education system when student number controls are removed in 2015-16. The report calls for a more considered approach to ensuring quality right across a growing and increasingly diverse sector if we are to safeguard the reputation of our world-leading higher education system.

Image by Howard Stanbury

Image by Howard Stanbury

HM Treasury estimates there will be an additional 60,000 entrants into higher education from 2015-16. From 2011-12 to 2014-15 the total Student Loan Council funding for students at alternative providers is projected to increase nine-fold.

The report‘How do we ensure quality in an expanding higher education system’, considers what kind of quality assurance measures would be fit for purpose in a more complex new world of expanding higher education. It states that while the current system is based on a set of solid principles, the quality assurance system must also evolve.

Read the report

Libby Hackett, Chief Executive of University Alliance, said:

“The reputation of the UK’s higher education sector is built on its quality. We must be ready for a more diverse and expanding system after 2015-16 when student number controls are removed. It is imperative that we ensure that its standards are maintained and quality improved​. We need to be thoughtful and careful in safeguarding the reputation of UK higher education at a time when global higher education in a highly competitive market.

“The growth of the higher education sector means we need to ensure the way it is regulated is fit for purpose and suitable for a rapidly changing world. Our new report looks at this complex issue surrounding how quality can be maintained and provides some possible solutions.”


Summary of the recommendations from the report:

  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