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Higher Education Reform
In United Kingdom

(Brief Summary)


Introduction

In the last 40 years of the twentieth century, higher education in the UK has changed profoundly. Major systemic changes include:

  • A threefold increase in the number of universities since the 1960s;
  • A growth in consumers which outstripped the growth in providers;
  • An irrevocable change in the balance between public and private funding;
  • Changes in the mechanisms for disbursing public funds;
  • Despite a trend decline in public funding, a dramatic increase in regulation and compliance requirements, with formal performance appraisal of teaching and research now well embedded. (Greenaway and Haynes, 2003)

The potential for such major systemic changes to impact on performance of higher education institutions was recognized by the creation in 1996 of the National Committee of Inquiry into Higher Education, chaired by Lord Dearing. Recommendations were made to government in the report Higher Education in the Learning Society (referred to as the Dearing Report, July 1997) on training and staff development, quality assurance arrangements, the challenges of new information and communication technologies, institutional management and governance.

The White Paper The Future of Higher Education (Jan 2003), set out the Government’s plans for radical reform and investment in universities and higher education colleges. A number of other discussion documents on Higher Education followed in the lead up to the Higher Education Act (2004) which received Royal Assent on 1 July, 2004,

In early 2006, the National Professional Standards Framework was developed by the Higher Education Academy in response to the White Paper 2003.


White Paper: The Future of Higher Education (2003)

BACKGROUND

This paper drew attention to the following issues:

  • Higher education must expand to meet rising skill needs.
  • The social class gap among those entering university remains too wide.
  • Many of the U.K’s economic competitors invest more in higher education.
  • Universities are struggling to employ the best academics.
  • Funding per student fell 36% between 1989 and 1997.
  • The investment backlog in teaching and research facilities is estimated at £8 billion.
  • Universities need stronger links with business and economy.

Government funding has been increased for higher education and measures are proposed in order to put UK’s universities and student finance system on a sustainable basis.

MAJOR RECOMMENDATIONS

Apart from increasing funding for research by 30%, encouraging collaborative research, creating a new Arts and Humanities Research Council and forging closer ties between the business sector, employers and universities, a number of recommendations were made with regard to the following:

Teaching and Learning (Appendix 1)

  • Additional funding for rewarding good teaching and providing more teaching fellowships for the best teachers
  • Centres of Excellence to reward good teaching and promote best practice
  • Better information for students including a new annual student survey and publication of summaries of external examiners’ reports to help student choice drive up quality
  • New national professional standards for teaching and a new national body to develop and promote good teaching – the Teaching Quality Academy (see Appendix 2)

Expanding Higher Education

  • Continue to increase participation towards 50% of those aged 18-30, mainly through two-year work-focused foundation degrees
  • Work with employers to develop more foundation degrees, providing financial incentives for students, strengthening links between further and higher education and creating better pathways for progression
  • Encourage more flexibility in courses, to meet the needs of a more diverse student body and improve support for those doing part-time degrees
  • Build better links between schools, colleges and universities and raise young people’s aspirations
  • Ensure fair access to higher education for students from different socioeconomic backgrounds.


References

Greenaway, D. and Haynes, M. (2003). Funding Higher Education in the UK: the Role of Fees and Loans. The Economic Journal, 113 p150-166.

Department for Education and Skills. (2003). The Future of Higher Education. UK: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office.

Higher Education Academy. (2006). The UK Professional Standards Framework for teaching and supporting learning in higher education. [Brochure] UK: Higher Education Academy.

Higher Education Act 2004, Chapter 8 (2004). Retrieved May 16, 2006, from http://www.opsi.gov.uk/%20ACTS/acts2004/20040008.htm

The National Committee of Inquiry into Higher Education. (1997). Higher Education in the Learning Society. Retrieved May 16, 2006, from the National Committee of Inquiry into Higher Education Website: http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/regandaccr/Standards%20Framework(1).pdf


(Detailed Summary)


Introduction

In the last 40 years of the twentieth century, higher education in the UK has changed profoundly. Major systemic changes include:

  • A threefold increase in the number of universities since the 1960s;
  • A growth in consumers which outstripped the growth in providers;
  • An irrevocable change in the balance between public and private funding;
  • Changes in the mechanisms for disbursing public funds;
  • Despite a trend decline in public funding, a dramatic increase in regulation and compliance requirements, with formal performance appraisal of teaching and research now well embedded. (Greenaway and Haynes, 2003)

The potential for such major systemic changes to impact on performance was recognized by the creation in 1996 of the National Committee of Inquiry into Higher Education, chaired by Lord Dearing. This was intended as a root and branch review of funding, quality control, regulation and governance. Higher Education in the Learning Society (referred to as the Dearing Report, in 1997), made 93 recommendations to the UK government, the majority of which related to training and staff development, quality assurance arrangements, the challenges of new information and communication technologies, institutional management and governance.

The White Paper The Future of Higher Education (Jan 2003), set out the Government’s plans for radical reform and investment in universities and higher education colleges. A number of other discussion documents on Higher Education followed in the lead up to the Higher Education Act (2004) which received Royal Assent on 1 July, 2004,

In early 2006, the National Professional Standards Framework was developed by the Higher Education Academy in response to the White Paper 2003.


Time Line

Date Milestone Details
Jul 1997 Higher Education in the Learning Society (The Dearing Report) The National Committee of Enquiry into Higher Education was appointed to make recommendations on how the purposes, shape, structure, size and funding of higher education, including support for students, should develop to meet the needs of the UK over the next 20 years.
26 Nov 1997 Teaching and Higher Education Bill Bill introduced in the House of Lords. Proposed the introduction of tuition fees for the 1998/99 academic year.
16 Jul 1998 Teaching and Higher Education Act Enactment of the Teaching and Higher Education Bill.
Feb 2000 David Blunkett’s speech on HE, Greenwich University Statement about the future direction of higher education and the challenges it faces in the 21st century i.e. globalization, the knowledge economy, innovation, social inclusion, excellence and diversity.
2002 Fundamental strategic review of HE
22 Jan 2003 White Paper “The Future of Higher Education” The Paper sets out the Government’s plans for radical reform and investment in universities and higher education colleges.
Apr 2003 Widening Participation in Higher Education It outlined the actions the Government proposed to take in order to promote higher education: attainment, aspiration, application and admission.
Prior to the HE Act Regulatory Impact Assessment Two papers were produced; a Regulatory Impact Assessment, and a Race Impact Assessment which was updated in August 2004.
Jul 2004 Science & Innovation Investment Framework 2004-2014 The framework outlined out the Government’s ambition for UK science and innovation over the next decade, in particular their contribution to economic growth and pubic services, and the attributes and funding arrangements of a research system capable of delivering this.
1 Jul 2004 Higher Education Act The Act was intended to assist the implementation of a number of policies set out in the White Paper. The Future of Higher Education.
23 Feb 2006 National Professional Standards Framework In response to the White Paper 2003, Universities UK (UUK), the Standing Conference of Principals (SCOP) and the UK higher education funding bodies invited the Higher Education Academy to consult with the sector to develop a standards framework.


The Dearing Report – Higher Education in the Learning Society

INTRODUCTION

Higher Education in the Learning Society is a report of the National Committee of Inquiry into Higher Education, chaired by Lord Ron Dearing. The Committee was appointed on 10 May 1996 to make recommendations on how the purposes, shape, structure, size and funding of higher education, including support for students, should develop to meet the needs of the United Kingdom over the next 20 years. It was asked to recognize that higher education embraces teaching, learning, scholarship and research.

SUMMARY

  1. Over the next 20 years, the United Kingdom must create a society committed to learning throughout life. That commitment will be required from individuals, the state, employers and providers of education and training. Education is life enriching and desirable in its own right. It is fundamental to the achievement of an improved quality of life in the UK.
  2. It should, therefore, be a national policy objective to be world class both in learning at all levels and in a range of research of different kinds. In higher education, this aspiration should be realized through a new compact involving institutions and their staff, students, government, employers and society in general. We see the historic boundaries between vocational and academic education breaking down, with increasingly active partnerships between higher education institutions and the worlds of industry, commerce and public service. In such a compact, each party should recognize its obligation to the others.
  3. Over the next 20 years, we see higher education gaining in strength through the pursuit of quality and a commitment to high standards. Higher education will make a distinctive contribution to the development of a learning society through teaching, scholarship and research. National need and demand for higher education will drive a resumed expansion of student numbers – young and mature, full-time and part-time. But over the next two decades, higher education will face challenges as well as opportunities. The effectiveness of its response will determine its future.
  4. That future will require higher education in the UK to:
    • encourage and enable all students – whether they demonstrate the highest intellectual potential or whether they have struggled to reach the threshold of higher education – to achieve beyond their expectations;
    • safeguard the rigour of its awards, ensuring that UK qualifications meet the needs of UK students and have standing throughout the world;
    • be at the leading edge of world practice in effective learning and teaching;
    • undertake research that matches the best in the world, and make its benefits available to the nation;
    • ensure that its support for regional and local communities is at least comparable to that provided by higher education in competitor nations;
    • sustain a culture which demands disciplined thinking, encourages curiosity, challenges existing ideas and generates new ones;
    • be part of the conscience of a democratic society, founded on respect for the rights of the individual and the responsibilities of the individual to society as a whole;
    • be explicit and clear in how it goes about its business, be accountable to students and to society, and seek continuously to improve its own performance.
  5. To achieve this, higher education will depend on:
    professional, committed members of staff who are appropriately trained, respected and rewarded;
    a diverse range of autonomous, well-managed institutions with a commitment to excellence in the achievement of their distinctive missions.
  6. The higher education sector will comprise a community of free-standing institutions dedicated to the creation of a learning society and the pursuit of excellence in their diverse missions. It will include institutions of world renown and it must be a conscious objective of national policy that the UK should continue to have such institutions. Other institutions will see their role as supporting regional or local needs. Some will see themselves as essentially research oriented; others will be predominantly engaged in teaching. But all will be committed to scholarship and to excellence in the management of learning and teaching.
  7. Higher education is fundamental to the social, economic and cultural health of the nation. It will contribute not only through the intellectual development of students and by equipping them for work, but also by adding to the world’s store of knowledge and understanding, fostering culture for its own sake, and promoting the values that characterize higher education: respect for evidence; respect for individuals and their views; and the search for truth. Equally, part of its task will be to accept a duty of care for the wellbeing of our democratic civilization, based on respect for the individual and respect by the individual for the conventions and laws which provide the basis of a civilized society.
  8. There is growing interdependence between students, institutions, the economy, employers and the state. We believe that this bond needs to be more clearly recognized by each party, as a compact which makes clear what each contributes and what each gains.


White Paper: The Future of Higher Education

On 22 January 2003, Education and Skills Secretary Charles Clarke announced the publication of the White Paper “The Future of Higher Education”, which sets out the Government’s plans for radical reform and investment in universities and HE colleges.

BACKGROUND

Higher education system is a great asset both for individuals and the nation. Although the universities in the UK are world renowned, the whole education is under pressure and at risk of decline. The country is facing hard choices on funding, quality and management:

  • Higher education must expand to meet rising skill needs.
  • The social class gap among those entering university remains too wide.
  • Many of their economic competitors invest more in higher education.
  • Universities are struggling to employ the best academics.
  • Funding per student fell 36% between 1989 and 1997.
  • The investment backlog in teaching and research facilities is estimated at £8 billion.
  • Universities need stronger links with business and economy.

Tackling these challenges needs a long-term strategy for investment and reform. The UK Government has reversed years of under-investment with an increase in funding for higher education averaging more than 6% for the years 2004-07. This extra investment is intended to boost access to universities to tackle many of their immediate problems. But this alone will not enable universities to boost opportunity and excellence as much as needed.

Measures are proposed in order to put UK’s universities and student finance system on a sustainable basis. It is hoped that these measures will:

  • Bring major improvements to the funding of research and knowledge transfer, boost world class excellence and strengthen the work of universities in supporting the regional economies;
  • Improve and reward excellent teaching;
  • Enable more people to enter higher education, benefiting both individuals and the economy’s need for higher level skills;
  • Support those from disadvantaged backgrounds by restoring grants, helping with fee costs, and abolishing up-front tuition fees for all students. (for increasing attainment and aspiration);
  • Allow universities to secure a contribution of between £0 and £3000 per year to the cost of each course;
  • Give universities long term financial certainty by helping them build up endowment funds.


MAJOR RECOMMENDATIONS

Research Excellence – building on strengths

  • Increase spending on research in 2005-06 by £1.25 billion compared to 2002-03 – an increase of around 30% in real terms
  • Encourage and reward research in larger units, including through collaboration
  • Invest more in the leading research departments and universities, enabling them to compete with the world’s best
  • Develop new incentives to support emerging and improving research
  • Develop and reward talented researchers, with rigorous new standards for government-funded research postgraduate places
  • Create a new Arts and Humanities Research Council

Higher Education and Business – exchanging and developing knowledge and skills

  • Strengthening the HE Innovation Fund (HEIF) – worth £90m a year in 2005-06 – to encourage especially the non research-intensive universities to work with employers locally, regionally and nationally
  • Funding through HEIF a network of 20 Knowledge Exchanges to reward and support HE institutions working with business
  • Building stronger partnerships between HE institutions and regional development agencies (RDAs), with RDAs playing an increasing role allocating HEIF
  • Helping sector skills councils forge stronger alliances between business and relevant departments in universities and colleges

Teaching and Learning – delivering excellence (Appendix 1)

  • Additional funding not just for excellence in research but also in teaching with new money for pay modernization, rewarding good teaching and providing more fellowships for the best
  • Centres of Excellence to reward good teaching and promote best practice
  • Better information for students including a new annual student survey and publication of summaries of external examiners’ reports to help student choice drive up quality
  • New national professional standards for teaching and a new national body to develop and promote good teaching – the Teaching Quality Academy

Expanding higher education to meet the needs

  • Continue to increase participation towards 50% of those aged 18-30, mainly through two-year work-focused foundation degrees
  • Work with employers to develop more foundation degrees, providing financial incentives for students, strengthening links between further and higher education and creating better pathways for progression
  • Encourage more flexibility in courses, to meet the needs of a more diverse student body and improve support for those doing part-time degrees

Fair Access

  • Restoring grants for students from lower income families and abolishing up-front fees for all
  • Requiring universities to draw up an Access Agreement to improve access for disadvantaged students, before they are able to increase the level of fee they ask students to pay
  • Appointing an independent Access Regulator to oversee these agreements, to promote wider access and to ensure that admissions procedures are fair, professional and transparent
  • Expanding the national AimHigher programme to build better links between schools, colleges and universities and raise young people’s aspirations
  • Reforming funding so that universities and colleges will be properly reimbursed for extra costs in attracting and retaining students from non-traditional backgrounds
  • Have doubled the amount of extra money to help vulnerable students and will introduce a new package of grant support for part-time students

Freedoms and Funding

  • Re-introduce from 2004 a new grant of up to £1000 a year for students from lower-income families, benefiting around a third of students
  • Introduce in 2006 a new Graduate Contribution Scheme. Universities will be allowed to seek a contribution of between £0 and £3000 per year for each course
  • Continue to pay up to the first £1,100 of fees for students from lower income families
  • Abolish up-front payment of tuition fees and allow every student to defer until after they have graduated their contribution to the cost of their course. Payments after graduation will be through the tax system, linked to ability to pay
  • Raise, from April 2005, the threshold at which graduates have to start repaying their fee contribution and maintenance loan from £10,000 to £15,000
  • Help universities build up endowment funds by promoting individual and corporate giving and creating a fund to give universities the incentive to raise their own endowment finance

The ambition is to ensure that the UK has a higher education system matching the best in the world. These proposals show how this ambition can be achieved.


References

Greenaway, D. and Haynes, M. (2003). Funding Higher Education in the UK: the Role of Fees and Loans. The Economic Journal, 113 p150-166.

Department for Education and Skills. (2003). The Future of Higher Education. UK: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office.

Higher Education Academy. (2006). The UK Professional Standards Framework for teaching and supporting learning in higher education. [Brochure] UK: Higher Education Academy.

Higher Education Act 2004, Chapter 8 (2004). Retrieved May 16, 2006, from http://www.opsi.gov.uk/%20ACTS/acts2004/20040008.htm

The National Committee of Inquiry into Higher Education. (1997). Higher Education in the Learning Society. Retrieved May 16, 2006, from the National Committee of Inquiry into Higher Education Website: http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/regandaccr/Standards%20Framework(1).pdf


The Higher Education Act (2004)

BACKGROUND

The Higher Education Act was given Royal Assent on 1 July 2004. The Act is intended to assist in the implementation of a number of policies set out in the White Paper The Future of Higher Education, published on 22 January 2003, which defines the Government’s position on higher education as a whole.

The Act also contains provisions relating to three matters not covered by the White Paper: the provision of new powers to share information relating to student support, the exclusion of the jurisdiction of the Visitor over staff disputes, and the devolution of the tuition fee regime and student support in relation to Wales to the National Assembly for Wales.

OVERVIEW

The Act is divided into 5 Parts.

Part 1 makes provision relating to a new Arts and Humanities Research Council (which is to be set up by Royal Charter) and the funding of arts and humanities research.
Part 2 deals with the review of student complaints.
Part 3 permits institutions to charge variable fees and, providing they have an approved plan, fees above a basic rate.
Part 4 includes provisions to transfer functions to the National Assembly for Wales, and provisions to prevent student loans being written off on discharge from bankruptcy, as well as amendments to allow loans in respect of money owed by students to universities to be paid to the latter so as to facilitate deferral of fee payments by students. It also includes provision about the disclosure of information.
Part 5 contains miscellaneous and general provisions.

SUMMARY

Part 1 – Research in Arts and Humanities

This Part enables the existing Arts and Humanities Research Board to be replaced by a research council, to be established by Royal Charter, equivalent to the research councils dealt with in the Science and Technology Act 1965. As with the existing research councils, the new council will operate throughout the UK and will be a reserved matter for the purposes of the Scotland Act 1998 and the Northern Ireland Act 1998. This Part also makes provision for the direct funding of arts and humanities research in addition to that which may be funded through the new council.

Part 2 – Review of Student Complaints

This Part allows the Secretary of State or the National Assembly for Wales to designate a body corporate providing a scheme for reviewing student complaints, which higher education institutions in England and Wales will then be required to use. The provisions of this Part set out conditions which must be met by the body corporate and the scheme which it provides, and duties with which a designated body must comply.

At present, students in some universities may appeal only to their university’s Visitor (a person with a common law role to supervise the domestic affairs of that institution) about unresolved student complaints. The provisions end the jurisdiction of university Visitors over student complaints (there is similar provision in Part 5 ending the Visitor’s jurisdiction over staff disputes).

Part 3 – Student Fees and Fair Access

Student fees – Previously, under section 26 of the Teaching and Higher Education Act 1998, the fee which higher education institutions (HEIs) charge for full-time undergraduate students in a given year was determined by the maximum fee remission grant for that year, as prescribed under section 22 of that Act. This Act enables HEIs to set their own fees, up to a basic amount specified in regulations, which is no longer linked to a grant for fees. Institutions that wish to charge fees above this rate will only be able to do so if they have in force a plan under this Part of the Act, approved by the relevant authority (for England, the Director of Fair Access to Higher Education). If institutions have such a plan, they may charge up to a higher amount (within the bounds of their plan), also specified in regulations. It is intended that loans will be made available, on an income-contingent basis and with no real rate of interest, to allow students to defer payment of fees.
Director of Fair Access to Higher Education – This Part of the Act creates a new office-holder, the Director of Fair Access to Higher Education. His or her office will informally be known as the Office for Fair Access (OFFA). The Director’s role will be approving and monitoring plans made by institutions in England that wish to set fees higher than the basic amount. The matters to be covered by these plans – which will remain in force for up to five years – will be specified in regulations. Should an institution breach its plan, the Director may choose not to renew that plan or, where there is need for more immediate action, may direct the Higher Education Funding Council for England or the Teacher Training Agency to impose financial requirements, including reducing its grant to that institution.

Part 4 – Student Support

Transferring functions to the National Assembly for Wales – Most of the Secretary of State’s functions in relation to education were already transferred prior to this Act, as respects Wales, to the National Assembly. The Act makes provision for the majority of functions related to student support which were previously not transferred, as well as responsibility for policy on tuition fees, to be transferred from the Secretary of State for Education and Skills to the National Assembly for Wales.
Preventing student loan debt forming part of a bankrupt’s estate – The Act makes it possible to prevent student loan debt being written off on discharge from bankruptcy.
Facilitating the deferral of payment of tuition fees – The Act contains a measure to support the deferral of the payment of tuition fees, by allowing loan payments to be made directly to institutions, so that they can receive fee payments up front and students can repay later.
Supply of information – This provision gives the Secretary of State powers to make regulations empowering specified supply of data to higher education institutions or other bodies exercising functions of a public nature.

Part 5 – General

This Part contains supplementary provisions.

National Professional Standards Framework

BACKGROUND

The idea of a framework for professional standards for teaching and supporting learning in higher education was proposed in the White Paper The Future of Higher Education (2003). In response to this the UKK, SCOP and the UK higher education funding bodies invited the Higher Education Academy to consult with the sector to develop such a framework.

A National Professional Standards Framework has been developed for institutions to apply to their professional development programmes and activities in order to demonstrate that professional standards for teaching and supporting learning are being met.

The Framework aims to act as:

  • An enabling mechanism to support the professional development of staff engaged in supporting learning;
  • A means by which professional approaches to supporting student learning can be fostered through creativity, innovation and continuous development;
  • A means of demonstrating to students and other stakeholders the professionalism that staff bring to the support of the student learning experience;
  • A means to support consistency and quality of the student learning experience.

PROCESS

The framework is a descriptor based approach whereby higher education institutions determine their own criteria in the application of the standards framework. In order to demonstrate application of the standards, six areas of activity, core knowledge and professional values are applied to learning outcomes and assessment activities within the institution’s professional development programmes.

The Standards:

Standard descriptor Examples of staff groups
1. Demonstrates an understanding of the student learning experience through engagement with at least 2 of the 6 areas of activity, appropriate core knowledge and professional values; the ability to engage in practices related to those areas of activity; the ability to incorporate research, scholarship and/or professional practice into those activities.
  • PG teaching assistants
  • Staff new to higher education teaching
  • Staff whose role includes a small range of learning and teaching support activities
2. Demonstrates an understanding of the student learning experience through engagement with all areas of activity, core knowledge and professional values; the ability to engage in practices related to all areas of activity; the ability to incorporate research, scholarship and/or professional practice into those activities.
Staff who have a substantive role in learning and teaching
3. Supports and promotes student learning in all areas of activity, core knowledge and professional values through mentoring and leading individuals and/or teams; incorporates research, scholarship and/or professional practice into those activities.
Experienced staff who have an established track record in promoting and mentoring colleagues in learning and teaching

Areas of activity:

  1. Design and planning of learning activities and/or programmes of study
  2. Teaching and/or supporting student learning
  3. Assessment and giving feedback to learners
  4. Developing effective environments and student support and guidance
  5. Integration of scholarship, research and professional activities with teaching and supporting learning
  6. Evaluation of practice and continuing professional development

Core knowledge:

Knowledge and understanding of:

  1. The subject material
  2. Appropriate methods for teaching and learning in the subject area and at the level of the academic programme
  3. How students learn, both generally and in the subject
  4. The use of appropriate learning technologies
  5. Methods for evaluating the effectiveness of teaching
  6. The implications of quality assurance and enhancement for professional practice

Professional values:

  1. Respect for individual learners
  2. Commitment to incorporating the process and outcomes of relevant research, scholarship and/or professional practice
  3. Commitment to development of learning communities
  4. Commitment to encouraging participation in higher education, acknowledging diversity and promoting equality of opportunity
  5. Commitment to continuing professional development evaluation of practice

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