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HE Green Paper – today’s the day

November 6, 2015

The government released Fulfilling our Potential: Teaching Excellence, Social Mobility and Student Choice today. This is its consultative ‘Green Paper’ setting out in broad terms its plans for English higher education. The consultation closes on 15 January and will inform what looks likely to be a Higher Education Bill in 2015.

The Green Paper is dense and runs to over 100 pages. It’s not an easy read.

I have already covered two aspects of it for wonkhe, where you can find full coverage including takes on the Teaching Excellence Framework and the implications for research.

One piece on new plans for further market liberalisation by making it easier for startups to achieve degree awarding powers and the university title.

The second an overview of ten things that have generally been missing from mainstream media. In particular, that askes questions about the government’s plans for the charitable status and interpretations of the public interest if universities seek to convert to for-profit corporate forms.

These are themes that dominated my 2013 book, The Great University Gamble. In many ways, this Green Paper returns to the business left unfinished by the Coalition after it decided not to proceed with primary legislation in 2012.

A more theoretical overview of what’s going on is available at Goldsmith’s Political Economy Research Centre in my piece, ‘The Treasury View of HE: variable human capital’.

In general, my immediate take on the Green Paper is that it is fundamentally incoherent. The incentives on offer for universities are not substantial enough to drive the changes in teaching sought by the government, while the government has failed to make the case as to why making it easier to become a university should boost quality across the sector.

I made the off-the-cuff comment in one of the articles above that the new timescales for titles and powers matched those sought by private equity investors (returns within 5 to 7 years). Perhaps there’s more truth in that than I thought orignally.

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