Higher education Green Paper

The much-trailed higher education Green Paper appeared last week. For the full document, the place to go is here and for a Times Higher summary the link is here. Immediately worth bearing in mind is that higher education in the UK is a matter for devolved government, meaning that most of what the Green Paper says relates to English universities. I say ‘most’ because, as is noted towards the beginning of the document, the Research Councils (like the MRC and the ESRC) have UK-wide remits, whilst the REF and the various editions of the RAE preceding it were carried out on a four-country basis. It would also be naive in the extreme to suggest that universities and policymakers here in Wales can ignore the England-only bits of what the Green Paper has to say; for a nice piece on the Green Paper and devolution, follow this link. And, for an insight into work ongoing in Wales on matters higher education-related, here’s a link to a current review of funding arrangements.

Fulfilling our potential: teaching excellence, social mobility and student choice, to give the Green Paper its full title, proposes plenty of change. It also leaves much of the detail unfilled, and (in at least one analysis) contributes to an emerging higher education policy framework which is both vague and contradictory. One idea is for the Higher Education Funding Council for England and the Office for Fair Access to combine functions within a new Office for Students. Plans for a Teaching Excellence Framework are outlined, along with variable rates of tuition fees. Ahead of the publication of the document there was some talk that REF2014 might have been the last of its kind. What the Green Paper actually says (briefly) is that dual support for research should remain, and that some version of the research excellence framework should continue and be used as the basis for the allocation of government block funding. The next REF, it is suggested, will take place by 2021. But there is obviously more to follow in this context, with sections in the document referring to the administrative burden and cost of the REF and the possible use of metrics to ‘refresh’ quality assessments in between full cycles of peer review. There is also the small matter of having to determine, if the Higher Education Funding Council for England disappears, which body should in the future assume the task of allocating quality-related funding to English universities.

Meanwhile, the sole nurse to get a mention in the Green Paper and its surrounding commentary is Sir Paul Nurse, Nobel Laureate, President of the Royal Society and chair of the review into the UK’s research councils. Nurses, of the type of which I am one, have to look elsewhere for the specifics on possible future arrangements for the organisation and funding of health care professional education and for debates in this area.

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