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New legislation should be introduced to protect the quality of higher education in the UK at a time of rapid change, according to a new report from the University Alliance.
A higher education bill should be introduced as soon as possible to safeguard the reputation of Britain’s world-leading university system, it says.
The report, How do we ensure quality in an expanding higher education system, argues that new HE legislation should be a priority of the next government after the 2015 General Election.
The Alliance calls for the Higher Education Funding Council to be established in statute as the overall regulator of all forms of higher education, with the Quality Assurance Agency continuing to be commissioned by Hefce to oversee quality assurance.
“The reputation of the UK’s higher education sector is built on its quality,” said Libby Hackett, University Alliance chief executive. “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 is a highly competitive market.”
Quality assurance should be monitored carefully, says the report. And it warns that the higher education sector needs to think carefully with policy-makers, Hefce and the National Union of Students about what happens if a university or a programme has to close.
Alternative providers of HNDs and HNCs pose a particular risk, it suggests, as they have short track records of working in UK higher education and do not have links with degree awarding bodies.
All providers need to be required to make the same information public so that students can make informed choices and providers are properly accountable. Alternative providers of HE should be required to publish retention, employability and satisfaction statistics like other institutions.
Students at all institutions should be able to complain to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator, the Alliance adds. At present students in publicly-funded universities can do so but not those in institutions without university title or colleges that award foundation degrees.
Professor Madeleine Atkins, Hefce chief executive, said the report was timely and that Hefce was clear that only legislation could solve some of the deeper-seated regulatory issues facing English higher education.
“The Government has asked us to develop mechanisms to assure the quality of the student experience when student number controls are removed,” she said. “We have started work to examine how students might be better protected in the event of untoward disruption to their studies.”
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