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Government publishes higher education reform white paper

29 June 2011

Putting students at the heart of England's higher education (HE) system is the central theme of the government’s reforms which were announced on Tuesday. In future, graduates will pay more towards the cost of their degrees, but in return, the government says its proposals will improve their experience as students, expand their choices and make universities more accountable to students than ever before.

Universities minister, David Willetts
Universities minister, David Willetts

The proposals contained in the white paper: ‘Students at the Heart of the System’ cover four broad areas: reforming funding; delivering a better student experience; enabling universities to increase social mobility; and reducing regulation and removing barriers for new providers. These reforms are intended to ensure that universities are held accountable for an improved student experience. Other proposals include:

Ensure better information for students before they apply, better teaching while at university, greater transparency in areas such as feedback on their work and better preparation for the job market

Ask Professor Sir Tim Wilson to undertake a review into how university-industry collaboration can excel: the review will look at how the decline in sandwich courses can be reversed

Encourage universities to engage actively with employers to accredit or “kitemark” courses to indicate to students that they are valued by them

Make universities more accountable to students on teaching quality, who can trigger quality reviews where there are grounds for concern

Review the extent to which Student Charters are adopted and whether they should be made mandatory in the future

Free up student number controls by making around 85,000 places contestable among universities in 2012/13: through unrestrained recruitment of high-achieving students who typically get AAB grades, and by creating a flexible margin of places to reward quality providers charging an average of £7,500 or less for tuition

Ensure that the Office for Fair Access is properly resourced so that it can go further and faster to drive fair access for students from lower income families and widen participation

Enable a wider range of providers to join the sector to offer more choice for students

Promise less regulation and bureaucracy for universities.

The White Paper comes as part of the wider government agenda to put more power in the hands of the consumer. The Government has launched a major programme for public sector modernisation by cutting waste and bringing choice, encouraging competition and opening the market up to new providers. For higher education, this means that in future funding will follow the choices of the student.

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills will run a full consultation on the overall package of proposals outlined in the White Paper. Subject to parliamentary time, a Higher Education Bill will be brought forward in 2012.
In addition to the overall consultation, Government will also consult on:

Proposals for a single regulatory regime covering all institutions wanting to be recognised in the English higher education system

Early repayment mechanisms for student loans that would allow graduates to pay back their loans early without undermining the progressive nature of the system overall.

More information about the consultation process is available on the HE reform website 

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