Government reform of Higher Education - Business, Innovation and Skills Committee Contents

10 Conclusion

256.  The Government's reform of Higher Education represents a radical overhaul of the sector and will have a lasting impact not only on students but also on universities. In a number of areas—the provision of better and more extensive information, advice and guidance for all prospective students, the extension of tuition fee loans to part-time students, and a clearer requirement on universities to widen participation—the proposals have received widespread support. Certain reforms, for example the trebling of tuition fees, proved controversial. The Government's reforms also have to be considered in the context of the current economic reality and we do not dispute that savings needed to be made in the higher education budget. We also recognise the need for graduates to contribute to the cost of their education.

257.  Our inquiry into the Government's reforms has highlighted a number of areas of concern. Decisions were taken early on regarding the raising of tuition fees. While it may have been necessary to resolve the issue of tuition fees early, the need for a clear communications strategy could have been more effectively realised.

258.  When the Government published the White Paper, it announced a number of consultation exercises which would flesh out reforms in a number of key areas: early repayment penalties for loans, the future of student number controls, loans for students studying at alternative providers, "off quota" students and a new regulatory framework for new and alternative providers. The detail to be required in the Key Information Sets has yet to be finalised. There will also need to be changes to both OFFA and HEFCE to reflect their changing responsibilities in the Higher Education sector.

259.  Consultation is to be welcomed although the Government has set itself a challenging timetable. The new fee regime is to start at the beginning of the next academic year and we are concerned to ensure that these consultations will deliver the necessary coherent package of reforms to that timetable. It is vital that a new fee regime does not start without key aspects of the wider reform package in place.

260.  Successful delivery of these reforms is a key component of providing a prosperous Higher Education sector. Therefore, we strongly believe that they should be implemented as a package and not in a piecemeal way as both students and universities need certainty in the new system if they are to make informed decisions. We therefore urge the Government to ensure that its delivery programme has sufficient flexibility to accommodate a later implementation to deliver its reforms. To do so would be seen as a strength both for Government and for the sector it seeks to reform.

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Prepared 10 November 2011