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1 Education should not stop when a personleaves school. The opportunities and enjoyment it offersshould be available to people throughout their livesin different forms: full-time and part-time; academic andvocational, whatever will help them achieve their goals atthat stage of their life. Our education and skills systemsmust make this possible. We published our reforms to theskills system in Skills for Sustainable Growth inNovember 2010. This White Paper now sets out our policies forthe reform of higher education. It builds onstrong foundations.
2 Higher education has a fundamental value initself and our universities are, in many ways, world-class: inresearch; in attracting international students; andin contributing to the economy. But the challenge they face isputting the undergraduate experience at the heart of thesystem: that is the key issue addressed in this White Paper.We will publish our strategy for research and innovation laterthis year.
3 Our reforms tackle three challenges. First,putting higher education on a sustainable footing. Weinherited the largest budget deficit in post-warhistory, requiring spending cuts across government. Byshifting public spending away from teaching grants and towardsrepayable tuition loans, we have ensured that higher educationreceives the funding it needs even as substantial savings are madeto public expenditure. Second, institutions must deliver a betterstudent experience; improving teaching, assessment, feedbackand preparation for the world of work. Third, they must takemore responsibility for increasing social mobility.
4 It fell to the Coalition to receive thereport by the Independent Review of Higher Education Fundingand Student Finance (the “Browne Review”), whichwas established by the previous Government. We were given thereport in an environment when public funding had to be reducedand we accepted the main thrust – that the beneficiaries ofhigher education would need to make a larger contributiontowards its costs. We proposed a new system for highereducation funding which gives more support to students fortheir living costs, ensures that no first-time undergraduatestudent will have to pay fees up-front and ensures graduateswill only be expected to pay a portion of their salarytowards the cost of their education once they are earning over£21,000. Many part-time and distance-learning students willbecome entitled to tuition loans to cover full tuition costsfor the first time. In short, we proposed a “pay as youearn” system, with many of the best features of a graduate taxbut without its defects, which ensures that people are onlyever asked to contribute towards the cost of their education,once they can afford to do so.
5 We inherited an enormous deficit whichrequired difficult decisions. The changes to student financehave been controversial. We could have reduced student numbersor investment per student or introduced a lessprogressive graduate repayment mechanism. But these would allhave been unfair to students, higher education institutionsand the country. Instead our proposals for graduatecontributions ensure good universities will be well funded forthe long term. We estimate there will be a cash increase infunding for higher education of around ten per cent by 2014-15but more of the expenditure will eventually be recouped fromgraduates contributions.
Improving the student experience
6 The changes we are making to higher educationfunding will in turn drive a more responsive system. To besuccessful, institutions will have to appeal to prospectivestudents and be respected by employers. Putting financialpower into the hands of learners makes student choicemeaningful.
7 We will move away from the tight numbercontrols that constrain individual higher educationinstitutions, so that there is a more dynamic sector inwhich popular institutions can grow and where all universitiesmust offer a good student experience to remain competitive. Wewill manage this transition carefully to avoid unnecessaryinstability and keep within the overall budget.
8 We will make around 85,000 student placescontestable between institutions in 2012/13. We will allowunconstrained recruitment of the roughly 65,000highachieving students, scoring the equivalent of AAB or aboveat A-Level and will create a flexible margin of about 20,000places to reward universities and colleges who combine goodquality with value for money and whose average tuition charge(after waivers) is at or below £7,500 per year. We will alsoexpand the flexibility for employers and charities to offersponsorship for individual places outside of student numbercontrols, provided they do not create a cost liability forGovernment.
9 We will remove the regulatory barriers thatare preventing a level playing field for higher educationproviders of all types, including further educationcolleges and other alternative providers. This will furtherimprove student choice by supporting a more diverse sector,with more opportunities for part-time or accelerated courses,sandwich courses, distance learning andhigher-level vocational study. It will also lead to highereducation institutions concentrating on high-quality teaching,and staff earning promotion for teaching ability rather thanresearch alone.
10 We will make it easier for new providers toenter the sector. We will simplify the regime for obtainingand renewing degree-awarding powers so that itis proportionate in all cases. We will review the use of thetitle ‘university’ so there are no artificial barriers againstsmaller institutions. It used to be possible to set up a newteaching institution teaching to an external degree. Similarly,it was possible to set exams for a degree without teaching forit as well. We will once more decouple degree-awarding powersfrom teaching in order to facilitate externally-assesseddegrees by trusted awarding bodies.
11 We will radically improve and expand theinformation available to prospective students, makingavailable much more information about individual coursesat individual institutions and graduate employment prospects.We are asking UCAS and higher education institutions to makeavailable, course by course, new data showing the type andsubjects of the actual qualifications held by previouslysuccessful applicants. We will ask the main organisations thathold student data to make detailed data available publicly,including on employment and earnings outcomes, so it can beanalysed and presented by private organisations in a varietyof formats to meet the needs of students, their parents andother advisors. The consumer organisation Which?and independent not-for-profit organisationbestcourse4me are among those interested in doing this.
12 Student charters and student feedback willtake on a new importance to empower students whilst atuniversity. Universities will be expected to publish onlinesummary reports of student surveys of lecture courses, aidingchoice and stimulating competition between the best academics.We will protect the independence of the Office of theIndependent Adjudicator (OIA) so students continue to haverecourse to a formal independent mechanism forunresolved complaints.
13 We also want our universities to look againat how they work with business across their teaching andresearch activities, to promote better teaching, employersponsorship, innovation and enterprise. We have askedProfessor Sir Tim Wilson, former vice-chancellor of theUniversity of Hertfordshire, to undertake a review into how wemake the UK the best place in the worldfor university-industry collaboration.
14 We will put in place a new regulatory systemthat protects standards and quality, gives power to studentsto trigger quality reviews where there are grounds forconcern, yet cuts back the burden of review for highperforming institutions. The new funding environment alsoprovides an opportunity to introduce a simple, transparentregime for all types of provider with the Higher EducationFunding Council for England (HEFCE) taking on a new roleas consumer champion for students and promoter of acompetitive system. We will strip back excessive regulation onproviders wherever it is possible including: reducing burdensfrom information collection; exploring whether it is possibleto reduce the costs associated with corporation tax returns;and adopting a risk-based approach to quality assurance.
Increasing social mobility
15 Despite the overall successes of our highereducation sector in recent years, applicants with realpotential are not making it through to our mostselective institutions. The most disadvantaged young peopleare seven times less likely than the most advantaged to attendthe most selective institutions. This is not good enough.Individuals with the highest academic potential should havea route into higher education, and the most selectiveinstitutions in particular.
16 Our student funding reforms recognise theproblems faced by people from poorer backgrounds with nohistory of participating in higher education. Weare increasing maintenance grants and loans for nearly allstudents. We are introducing a National Scholarship Programme.And, through the Office for Fair Access (OFFA), we are makingsure institutions fulfil their outreach and retentionobligations: for the foreseeable future, Access Agreements willbe reviewed annually.
17 In order to achieve this, OFFA will remainindependent and be strengthened with a long overdue increasein resources. That way, it will be better equipped to monitorand review the implementation of institutions’ AccessAgreements; act if institutions are not meeting theircommitments; commission research and spread best practice. TheDirector of Fair Access will continue to have a dutyto protect academic freedom, including an institution’s rightto decide who to admit and on what basis. We will ask the newDirector to advise us on whether OFFA’s powers needclarification or extension in order to deliver theDirector’s statutory objectives.
18 This White Paper also considers whether weshould move to a new system of Post-Qualification Applications(PQA), which could mean the main university application roundoccurs after exam results rather than before. There are somepotential advantages from PQA in terms of helping studentsfrom disadvantaged backgrounds and those who do better thanexpected and we will await the conclusion of the UCAS reviewof admissions processes before considering further.
19 Ultimately, the best way to widenparticipation is to ensure there are sufficient highereducation places available for those qualified. Subject toexpenditure constraints we endorse the principle enunciated inthe Robbins report that “courses of higher education should beavailable for all those who are qualified by ability andattainment to pursue them and who wish to do so”.1 Thenumber of unsuccessful applicants has risen sharply in recentyears. However, despite the funding changes, eachundergraduate place has a substantial cost for taxpayers andwe need a more cost-effective sector if we are tospread opportunity more widely.
20 We will be looking for real efficiencies oncampus on the back of the Diamond review. We expect newcourses to offer increased value for money, as they will bedelivered by a range of providers with different businessmodels. And we expect traditional higher education providersto respond to this with changes of their own. To support them,we will consult on whether it is possible to remove some ofthe VAT barriers which currently deter institutions fromsharing costs. The more efficiently that higher education can beprovided, the less it will cost the graduates of the future, themore people will be able to benefit and the greater thenational economic gain.
Research and innovation
21 This reform focuses on higher educationteaching but our universities have a much wider role. Thequality of research in UK universities is a nationalasset. Despite growing international competition, the UKresearch base is second in the world for excellence and the UKis the most productive country for research in the G8,producing more publications and citations per pound of publicfunding than any other major country. This reflects thecontribution of the higher education sector to developing aresearch infrastructure, and a culture of excellence, thathave made the UK a place where many of the mosttalented researchers in the world want to work.
22 We are rolling out a programme of TechnologyInnovation Centres and, later this year, we will publish aninnovation and research strategy which will explore the rolesof knowledge creation, business investment, skills and training,and the public sector in innovation and growthperformance.
23 Our reforms are designed to deliver a moreresponsive higher education sector in which funding followsthe decisions of learners and successful institutions arefreed to thrive; in which there is a new focus on the studentexperience and the quality of teaching and in which furthereducation colleges and other alternative providers areencouraged to offer a diverse range of higher educationprovision.
24 The overall goal is higher education that ismore responsive to student choice, that provides a betterstudent experience and that helps improve social mobility.