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Browne review is the most influential HE report of the last decade, say experts

Lord Browne of Madingley

The votes are in and the result is unequivocal. The most influential higher education report of the last decade is the October 2010 Browne report: higher education funding and student finance, according to a range of experts.

The independent review on the future of fees policy and financial support was commissioned in 2009 by the Labour Government to fulfil a pledge to Labour rebels who had been persuaded not to sink the 2004 Bill which introduced £3,000 a year fees. Included on its panel was Michael Barber, now Chair of the Office for Students.

Its recommendation to remove the cap on the level of fees that universities can charge ushered in the era of higher fees, rising to their current level of £9,250, although its vision of a future where universities charge “different” fees, did not come to pass.

The report put forward the idea that the ability to charge higher fees should be contingent on “showing improvements in the student experience and demonstrating progress in fair access”, which has arguably culminated in the creation of the OfS and the “value for money” agenda.

Browne was mentioned most by twelve higher education experts asked by HEi-know to list what they see as the most influential of reports on or affecting higher education over the past ten years.

Almost all of the reports they identified (see table below) are covered by HEi-know’s unique archive of Briefing Reports – which provide easy-to-digest yet comprehensive cross-referenced summaries of key HE-related reports. The very first Briefing Report was on the Browne report, and to mark the findings of our poll, HEi-know has added a “re-mastered” version to the regularly updated archive of over 400 Briefing Reports, available to HEi-know subscribers (find out more here).

After Browne, the next most significant report cited were both white papers -- Students at the Heart of the System, published in 2011, and the 2016 Success as a knowledge economy paper.

In the first, the Coalition government signalled its desire to implement a "renewed focus on high-quality teaching" in universities, paving the way for the Teaching Excellence Framework. The second white paper effectively abolished the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) and set out plans for the creation of the OfS.

Looking forward, a number of experts predicted that the review of post-18 education and funding, led by Philip Augar, the former non-executive director of the Department for Education, will have a significant impact on the HE landscape. Charged with ensuring taxpayers get value for money, as well as focusing on the provision of technical education, it is due to report in early 2019, following an Office for National Statistics (ONS) report in December which will outline how student loans should appear in public finances.

Beyond these, the suggestions represent an eclectic mix, from party manifestos and education Bills, to outputs from quangos and think tanks. They cover areas as varied as vocational education, research, the use of metrics, graduate earnings, HE divergence across the UK and transnational education.

In terms of general themes, a number of titles in the list are concerned with fair access and social mobility, as well as provision and outcomes for and protection of the student-consumer.

Questions were raised by some experts about the influence of reports and how much notice ministers take of “anything outside government”.  On the other hand, some pointed to the influence of smaller reports inspiring the production of big headline documents which change policy and practice. Most acknowledged that ideas and proposals floated in reports often do have an impact over time: for example, Browne’s emphasis on “improvements in the student experience” can be seen to lay the foundation for the TEF and the OfS, while the Wolf report’s questioning of the dominant HE model could be seen to be have relevance for the much-awaited Augur review.


Read more: Find out What the experts said

The most influential higher education reports in the last decade

October 2010 Browne report: higher education funding and student finance (See HEi-know Briefing Report 01, and re-mastered version HEi-know Briefing Report 406)

June 2011  Higher Education: Students at the Heart of the System white paper
(See HEi-know Briefing Report 409)

May 2016  Higher education: Success as a knowledge economy: teaching excellence, social mobility and student choices white paper (See HEi-know Briefing Report 299)

Nov 2015  Fulfilling our Potential: Teaching Excellence, Social Mobility and Student Choice green paper (See HEi-know Briefing Report 269)

Augur review of post-18 education and funding: announced Feb 2018, due to report early 2019

April 2016 Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS): How English domiciled graduate earnings vary with gender, institution attended, subject and socio-economic background  (See HEi-know Briefing Report 293)

Higher Education and Research Act (HERA) 2017  (See HEi-know Briefing Report 342)

March 2011 The Wolf Report: Review of Vocational Education

2016 Education Policy Institute: Remaking Tertiary Education: can we create a system that is fair and fit for purpose?

April 2011 Coalition government Cabinet Office: Opening Doors, Breaking Barriers: A Strategy for Social Mobility

July 2009 2009 Unleashing Aspiration: The Final Report of the Panel on Fair Access to the Professions

DFE/IFS: June 2018 The relative labour market returns to different degrees (See HEi-know Briefing Report 408)

Sept 2016 Diamond Review of Higher Education and Student Finance in Wales (See HEi-know Briefing Report 316)

Dec 2017 The National Audit Office: The higher education market  (see HEi-know Briefing Report 407)

The Liberal Democrat Manifesto 2010

The Labour Party Manifesto 2017

2013 IPPR: An Avalanche is Coming (See HEi-know Briefing Report 54)

2013 Social Market Foundation: Robbins https://www.mediafhe.com/briefing-report-410-hepi-how-much-is-too-much-cross-subsidies-from-teaching-to-research-in-british-universitiesRevisited (See HEi-know Briefing Report 104)

Annual OECD Education at a Glance reports  (See HEi-know Briefing Reports 36, 80, 192, 274, 315, 358, and 397)

Nov 2015 Nurse review of research councils (See HEi-know Briefing Report 273)

Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI): October 2012 The cost of the Government's reforms of the financing of higher education (See HEi-know Briefing Report 39)

HEPI: 2016 The invisible problem? Improving students’ mental health

HEPI: 2016 Boys to Men: The underachievement of young men in higher education – and how to start tackling it (See HEi-know Briefing Report 297)

HEPI/HEA annual academic experience surveys  (See HEi-know Briefing Reports 304, 345, and 391)

July 2016 The Stern Review: Building on Success and Learning from Experience (See HEi-know Briefing Report 310)

HEFCE: July 2015 The Metric Tide: Report of the Independent Review of the Role of Metrics in Research Assessment and Management (See HEi-know Briefing Report 256)

Quality Assurance Agency: May 2015 The UK Quality Code for Higher Education: Overview and the Expectations

Department for Education (DfE): 2017 The Wider Benefits of Transnational Education to the UK

HEPI: 2017 How much is too much? Cross-subsidies from teaching to research in British universities  (See HEi-know Briefing Report 410)

Higher Education Commission: Jan 2016 From Bricks to Clicks - The Potential of Data and Analytics in Higher Education (See HEi-know Briefing Report 281)

Higher Education Commission: Oct 2013 Regulating Higher Education
HEi-know Briefing Report 99)

UNESCO 2009: Impact of Global Rankings on Higher Education Research and the Production of Knowledge

2018 Sutton Trust: The Lost Part-timers (See HEi-know Briefing Report 383)