Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

HEC Wants All-Party Commitment to Autonomous Education Council: News

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

HEC Wants All-Party Commitment to Autonomous Education Council: News

Article excerpt

English system left vulnerable by lack of regulatory structure, commission warns. John Morgan reports.

The three big political parties must commit to an English higher education bill to avert "a threat to the system", according to a major new report.

There should also be a Council for Higher Education with more autonomy from the government to regulate the sector, according to the report from the Higher Education Commission - an independent body made up of senior figures from education, business and politics.

The study, Regulating Higher Education: Protecting Students, Encouraging Innovation, Enhancing Excellence, also warns that private provision amounts to a "growing unregulated sector" that "has the potential to damage England's reputation as a leading provider of higher education". It recommends that all higher education providers be forced - under threat of fines or closure for non-compliance - to sign up to common regulatory standards.

Both the inquiry's co-chairs - Conservative peer Lord Norton of Louth and Roger King, former vice-chancellor of the University of Lincoln - said they believe the government may introduce a consolidation bill before the election, drawing together existing regulatory changes.

But their report, published on 9 October, which took evidence from the education sector over eight months, recommends much more significant change.

It concedes that higher education regulation is seen as a "geeky" topic, but stresses the repercussions of failing to introduce a bill to update regulation to accompany funding changes and the advent of new providers (as the government originally planned with its shelved White Paper).

"We are concerned that the regulatory structure is not yet equipped to manage the new system of funding, or the increased diversity of providers, and that gaps are forming, which pose a threat to the system," says the HEC report.

Professor King, who is visiting professor in the School of Management at the University of Bath, said the report was about ensuring that "we don't have a fire without a fire brigade".

He urged the political parties to "move on with our proposals before we find out we've got some institutions, who we don't know about, suddenly getting into real difficulties without any recourse for their students, which might affect the reputation of the sector".

Lord Norton, professor of government at the University of Hull, said the commission was "making progress in that the parties are listening". …

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