The Further & Higher Education (Wales) Bill – a consultation

On 2 July 2012, the Welsh Assembly Government published a consultation into its proposals for a new F&HE Bill.  This post focuses on the provisions affecting HE; we’ll be publishing a post on the FE proposals shortly.

In HE, the key underlying consideration is WAG’s desire to see fewer, stronger institutions, better able, in WAG’s view,  to compete internationally. There is an interest in ensuring that the quality of HE provision is enhanced, and that staff and students have an effective voice. There is reference to the need to ensure that governance arrangements are effective and fit for purpose but also a recognition that against the background of an already substantial reconfiguration of the HE sector, changes to ensure this may need to be deferred, to avoid the risks involved in effecting too much change too quickly.  We are therefore promised a return to this key topic in 2013/14.

The main changes proposed at this stage are around the familiar theme of creating a level playing field for all providers of HE who are designated for student support. All such providers should be subject to the same assessments of quality of provision and financial viability. They should all be required to subscribe to the OIA, and to the mechanisms designed to ensure fair access to HE via approved fee plans. Finally, all providers are expected to be subject to the same fee cap and student number controls. This level playing field is to be achieved by giving HEFCW regulatory oversight over the whole of HE provision in Wales, and also fixing the funding council with the necessary powers and duties to secure these specific outcomes.

The consultation reiterates WAG’s commitment to measures to strengthen student engagement, such as ensuring that all students’ unions are adequately funded, and that meaningful student charters are developed. Views are invited as to whether existing initiatives, such as HEFCW guidance, have been sufficient or whether further steps are needed.

There are some interesting proposals about the powers needed to ensure compliance with fee plans. These include the power to direct that an institution invests a particular amount on access measures and more flexible sanctions, such as the power to require an independent evaluation of an institution’s access and retention measures.

Perhaps the most obviously controversial proposal is to give WAG the power directly to fund HE where strategically appropriate to do so. Examples of when it might be appropriate to do so include where employer/local needs are not being met, or where the funding forms part of a partnership with schools or colleges.

The consultation remains open until 24 September.

Smita Jamdar
Partner and Head of Education
For and on behalf of SGH Martineau LLP
DD: 0800 763 1332
M:  07909 925946
F: 0800 763 1732
International DD: +44 870 763 1332
E: smita.jamdar@sghmartineau.com
W: www.sghmartineau.com

From → General Interest

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