UK Parliament,
Financial support for students at alternative higher education providers

The Public Accounts Committee report on funding of alternative (private) higher education providers has been released. The report and associated press release is scathing on the lack of oversight: 

“[T]he Department has been unable to quantify how much money has been lost when it has funded students who have failed to attend, or failed to complete courses, or were not proficient in the English language, or were not entered for qualifications, or where courses themselves were poorly taught.”

The scale is important, loans and grants to students studying at these new private providers amount to around £645m. By comparison, HEFCE’s budget for research and teaching is less than £4 billion.

Read the full article on UK Parliament website.

The Guardian,
University funding reform ‘will cause brain drain’ to London

Research funding balances general research support and project (grant) based financing.

“Under the ‘dual support’ system, universities are given cash to spend as they wish, known as quality-related funding. At the same time the research councils fund major research projects undertaken according to national strategic goals

“The Observer has learned that the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills is looking at concentrating all funding in the hands of the research councils, in a move that would probably see an end to research funding in areas such as ancient Greek, according to one vice-chancellor.”

The concentration of funding in the hands of research councils will reduce or eliminate recurrent research funding (broadly a function of REF results). Funding council projects and grant criteria will likely be more instrumental, focusing on big projects in areas that might have noticeable impact on the economy.

Traditional research, particularly in the social sciences, undertaken by academics in their time between teaching will be increasingly funded by departmental teaching or, in less popular disciplines, will become completely dependent on internal cross subsidies from teaching heavy departments.

The big research projects will most likely be awarded to the larger institutions, smaller ones not having the capacity or experience to demonstrate they can deliver as leads on multi-million pound projects.

These changes will have an impact on the relationship between teaching and research. In the past, research time could be guarded because it was independently funded by HEFCE. Where teaching funds research, students will likely start to demand evidence that it contributes to their education in ways other than vague brand and reputation claims. Cross subsidies that occur between teaching heavy schools and less popular subjects might become less tenable, further diminishing the capacity of those schools to continue their research traditions. 

Read the full article on The Guardian website.

Front page news

Mark Leach is creating a database of front page news about higher education.

Positive stories seem in short supply.

A concerted effort from UK higher education to emphasise the positives might be in order. 

Read the full article on wonkhe website.

See also:Independent
Higher Education Commission,
Report: Too Good To Fail – The Financial Sustainability of Higher Education in England

Recent changes to higher education funding in England were doomed to fail for two reasons: 1) potential students are poorly equipped to evaluate the educational and financial consequences of their choices, and 2) market reforms distract university managers from the core tasks of generating and diffusing knowledge and skills.

Future reforms should work to ensure that irrespective of the institution they choose, students are guaranteed a quality education and university managers guarantee their institutions’ viability by developing the research and teaching environment.

It is pleasing to see that the Higher Education Commission’s report includes key recommendations that address these core issues:

Recommendation 3: The Government should monitor its plans to lift student number controls and be ready to reverse them if further research and experience shows they have had a damaging impact on students, universities or government finances.

Recommendation 10: The Government should not place too much reliance on market mechanisms given the absence of an informed consumer market.

Recommendation 14: The Government should acknowledge the importance of the regulatory framework to the financial sustainability of English HE and implement the recommendations from the Higher Education Commission’s report ‘Regulating Higher Education’.

Other recommendations deal with the need to create a richer higher education sector. This diversity is important because, while it is clear that the minimum education required to be an empowered participant in 21st century economy and society is likely to be more than A-level, the three year degree is not the only way to provide students with relevant knowledge and skills. 


The Government should not place too much reliance on market mechanisms given the absence of an informed consumer market. 

Read the full article on Higher Education Commission website.