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Jo Johnson, image courtesy of Conservative Party

Higher Education Green Paper

The Government launches its Green Paper on the future of Higher Education today, detailing the mechanisms for the Teaching Excellence Framework, proposing a new regulator for the HE sector and promising value for money for students.

The Green Paper, Fulfilling our potential: Teaching Excellence, Social Mobility and Student Choice, sets the ball rolling for some of the biggest changes to the management of HE in a generation. It is open for consultation until 16 January, 2016, and (because some of its proposals will need legislation to see them through) will then lead to a White Paper and a Bill.

You can see the Green Paper here (pdf via Wonkhe).

HE policy blog Wonkhe will be blogging about the proposals through the day here.

In a nutshell, the headline aims of the Green Paper are:

  • Offering metrics for the TEF, including “the National Student Survey (NSS) on teaching quality and the learning environment, graduate employment figures from sources such as the Destination of Leavers from Higher Education (DLHE) surveys and information on student retention published by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (Hesa).” (Times Higher Education – registration/paywall)
  • Allowing universities that do better in the TEF to charge higher tuition fees from 2017-18
  • Linking greater success in the TEF to meeting targets for admitting students mfrom disadvantaged backgrounds
  • Abolishing the Education Funding Council for England (Hefce) and the Office for Fair Access (Offa) and merging them into a single regulator, the Office for Students (OfS)
  • Allowing new universities to set up, with access to funding and no cap on student numbers – and no minimum number either
  • Creating a route for a failing university to exit the sector, with protection for its students along the way.


For different overviews of the Green Paper, see these:


In a response to the Green Paper,  Dame Julia Goodfellow, President of Universities UK and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Kent, said: “The UK higher education sector is recognised around the world for its high quality teaching, learning, and rates of student satisfaction. We welcome the green paper’s emphasis on protecting the interests of students and demonstrating the value of a university education.

“The recognition of high quality teaching in our universities is a welcome step, but we must ensure that this exercise is not an additional burden for those teaching in our universities and that it provides useful information for students, parents, and employers. Universities are already improving the amount of information to students about courses to ensure that their experience matches their expectations.”

Read the full Universities UK response here.

Individual universities, associations like the Russell Group and other interested parties will now be looking closely at the proposals. The Times Higher gathers some initial, guarded welcomes to the TEF, commitments on social mobility and allowing new providers to enter the market. There are also the beginnings of some points of conflict and the devil, as ever, will be in the detail (registration/paywall).

Wonkhe gathers some responses from the sector here


Jo Johnson, the minister for higher education, wants the TEF to drive up teaching standards and the best-performing unis will be allowed to charge higher fees. There are concerns, though, that it could create a two-tier system where some universities are regarded as “second class”. Some are worried that it will be an increased burden on teachers, both psychologically and in paperwork, without any added incentive.

The Guardian gives an initial look at the issues here: Government plan to allow ‘better’ universities to raise fees

David Kernohan, a member of Wonkhe’s Editorial Group, writes: “Unerringly, the long awaited TEF proposals in today’s Green Paper have drawn from very worst aspects of [previous] initiatives to produce something outstandingly bad.” He gives his in-depth criticism of the TEF proposals here.

The Times Higher examines the introduction of variable tuition fees here (registration/paywall).

Value for money

The TEF is also inherent in the Goverment’s aim to give greater value for money to students, which the Guardian critiques here: University reform is coming – get ready for another numbers game

The BBC asks: Will students get ‘value for money’?

“When students only get six or seven hours a week contact time with academic staff, they look at how much they are paying for those hours. That might have been fine when university was free, but it’s a different when it’s going to take decades to pay off,” writes BBC education correspondent Sean Coughlan. “As the Green Paper makes clear, it’s no longer acceptable for universities to take the money, without being as rigorous about the quality or quantity of teaching.”

New providers and “market exit”

The Times Higher says: “Despite past damning criticism from the Public Accounts Committee of its failure to control public funding for students at private colleges in the last Parliament, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills is determined to press ahead with its longstanding agenda to create more competition, and more of a market, by bringing in private providers.”

Most alarming to universities will, the THE says, be doing away with the requirement to have a certain number of students before an institution can become a university, and faster access to degree-awarding powers. Making it easier to to earn the title of “university” risks weakening the UK’s international standing and reputation in higher education.

Read more on that here (registration/paywall).

Wonkhe says the market liberalisation simply accelerates  the 2011 White Paper Students at the Heart of the System, and looks at the problems with comparisons with other markets.

Andrew McGettigan writes for the blog: “This already looks like a misfiring state-regulated utility market that would only suit those aiming to arrive swiftly and depart equally rapidly after those first six years, before the compliance catches up. That is, incidentally, the normal timescale for private equity investment: after six years: cash in.

“In the end wouldn’t it be more efficient for the government to create some new universities?”


The Times Higher talks about the Green Paper’s impact on the Research Excellence Framework (registration/paywall) – if only to say that there isn’t much to go on. The REF gets five pages in the 100-page document, offering some certainty about the next few years but making noises about the introduction of metrics alongside peer review, which may prove controversial.

Further Analysis

Analysis of the Green Paper has marched on. Here are some more reactions, notably around the TEF.

Policy blog Wonkhe has a number of articles on the proposed reforms, which can be found here.

Of the TEF, it says: “The most developed aspect of the Green Paper, published yesterday, is the TEF, and it is the one that will concern academics on the ground the most.

“The best that one can say about it is that it is certainly an ambitious scheme from a minister determined to complete the work of his predecessor. It also introduces a wonderful new political mythology that has a familiar ring, that of ‘hard working students’ and ‘coasters’. However, it is also completely teffing mad.”

Read why it thinks so here.

It also asks: Can the TEF survive the arguments made against it?

It also gives a useful list of 10 things you might have missed about the Green Paper including the role of BIS, the lack of incentives for university tutors, and the loss of Higher Education Corporations.

The Guardian gets reactions to the Green Paper and reports them here. And in an editorial, it concludes that the Government’s education policy is vague and confused.

Academics respond

A group of academics from up and down the land have written to the Guardian saying the Green Paper “outlines the means by which market forces will be permitted to permeate further into higher education”. Calling the new approach a “failed model”, they say: “The proposals outlined in the green paper will make it harder for universities to deliver high-quality education for all. ”

Read the full letter here: The higher education green paper will see market forces permeate universities 

Also in the Guardian, Jess Patterson, a PhD student and postgraduate research rep for the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts, says the TEF “ignores the simple fact that teaching quality varies because employment quality varies”. Patterson also questions the validity of the metrics the TEF will use. Read that piece here: Jo Johnson won’t fix teaching, he’ll just make life harder for academics

The Times Higher has the interim results from the 2016 Best University Workplace Survey showing only one in five university employees support a teaching excellence framework as a means to improve the classroom experience for students (registration/paywall).

On Freedom of Information – Government plans to exempt universities from freedom of information (FOI) requests have been condemned by Labour. The paper argues this would create a level playing field with private providers, which are not subject to requests and are taking a greater role in higher education, but Labour says the proposal is part of a plan to stop the public from monitoring how the government spends public money.

On the REF – A proposed additional assessment of research quality between research excellence frameworks based on metrics such as citations rather than peer review would not be seen as credible, according to one of the authors of a major government-commissioned report on the subject. The Times Higher quotes Stephen Curry, a professor of structural biology at Imperial College London and one of the authors of the metrics report, saying that he did not think an intermediate assessment based on metrics “would have the credibility and support of the community”. That piece is here (registration/paywall).

Posted by Nicholas Manthorpe on Wed, 8 Feb 2017

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Nick was a reporter for the Eastern Daily Press and its sister weekly titles in Norfolk and Waveney, then served as Media Officer for North Norfolk District Council for 13 years. He now works as a writer and PR and media relations consultant. He is a member of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations, an associate member of the Chartered Management Institute and a member of East Anglian Writers.

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