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Universities have been urged keep a close eye on regulatory reforms and raise any concerns before issues become “entrenched”.
The warning comes from the Higher Education Better Regulation Group (HEBRG) in a report which examines work being done by the Regulatory Partnership Group (RPG) to assess the implications of recent changes to the HE sector, and provide advice to the Government on changes to HE regulation.
The RPG is examining the strength of current higher education regulation in light of recent changes to the sector – including devolution, changes to HE funding and the introduction of alternative providers. It has a particular focus on how the recent changes affect the shape of the sector as a whole, the collection of data and information, and the emergence of new types of higher education providers.
In its report, The Regulatory Partnership Group: Issues for English higher education and beyond, the HEBRG says universities need to be watchful of potential issues arising from regulatory reform in these areas.
“It is imperative that institutional leaders and administrators in the traditional and emerging higher education sectors understand the implications of these changes, participate in the process, and identify issues before they become entrenched,” the report says.
Work must be done to highlight the potential consequences of a widening gulf between regulation in England the Welsh and Scottish sectors, where responsibility for higher education has been devolved, the report adds. There is growing concern over who is accountable for the public funding of student fees across borders – for instance, when Wales subsidises Welsh students studying in England.
The report warns that the increased sharing of data between universities and regulators may mean institutions have less control over how their data is used and by whom.
Developing regulatory changes may make it harder for universities to collaborate with private sector companies, it adds. Universities are advised to report any challenges to the RPG as it compiles its advice to the Government.
Universities should be mindful of other potential reforms to HE regulation, besides the changes proposed by the RPG, the Group says.
There is likely to be a new Higher Education Act for England, which may include new legislative reform of English higher education regulation, it predicts. But this is not likely to come into place until 2018, at the earliest.
Universities should pay close attention to an upcoming report from the Office for Fair Trading (OFT) which will concentrate on the strength of current regulation within from a consumer and market perspective.
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