Should Welsh institutions be worried?

Since its publication last month, the Higher Education (Wales) Bill has caused concern amongst Welsh institutions and in the sector generally. The Bill certainly does propose some significant changes to the regulatory framework in Wales, the key changes being:

  • Institutions will be required to have a new ‘fee and access’ plan to obtain automatic designation. This will be open to all providers regardless of whether they are publicly or privately funded. All such institutions will be required to be charities.
  • The basic and higher amount for fees will be abolished and replaced with a ‘maximum’ fee limit which is expected to be £9,000. Institutions will be required to comply with this limit as well as the limit set out in their fee and access plans. Students cannot be required to pay in excess of either of these.
  • HEFCW will have a revised duty to assess or make arrangements for the assessment of the quality of education. It is envisaged that this will continue to be met through the QAA. Institutions will be under a duty to provide the QAA with relevant documents and access to premises when it is carrying out this duty.
  • There will be a new financial management code that replaces the financial memorandum. Institutions will be under a duty to comply with this. Institutions will also be required to co-operate with HEFCW when it is carrying out this duty.
  • HEFCW will be given a number of new powers. These include issuing directions to an institution that is not complying with its duties e.g. charging over its fee limit (the institution will also have to pay back the fees) or providing education that is inadequate. It will also have the power to refuse to or withdraw its approval of a fee plan where an institution fails to meet its duties.  Institutions will be able to make representations to HEFCW where approval is removed and the decision will be subject to review.  In many cases, HEFCW will also have the power to enforce its decisions through an injunction from the court.

The changes are designed to address the shift in power away from HEFCW when tuition fees were increased in 2012. Therefore, none of HEFCW’s new powers will be linked to funding. Whilst some may see the changes as a positive move that goes some way to addressing a flawed regulatory system, it will certainly put more pressure on institutions.  It should be remembered, however, that the Bill is in its very early stages, so there is still plenty of scope for change.

Eloise Di Pasqua
Education Team
For and on behalf of SGH Martineau LLP
DD: 0800 763 1377
International DD: +44 800 763 1377



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