Next steps in higher education regulatory reform

11 July 2013

The Government has announced its intention to make further changes to the regulation of higher education in England [Note 1]. These changes follow the 2011 Higher Education White Paper ‘Students at the heart of the system’ [Note 2], which sets out the Government’s plans for placing higher education on a financially sustainable footing, delivering a better quality student experience, and promoting social mobility.

The success of higher education in England is underpinned by the principles of institutional autonomy and academic freedom, and the new arrangements build on these strong foundations. The Government has asked HEFCE and the Regulatory Partnership Group (RPG) [Note 3] to implement them within existing legislation, while recognising that a new legislative framework will be required in the longer term.

Working in partnership with the RPG, HEFCE is asked to take on a regulatory oversight and coordination role [Note 4]. HEFCE is leading work on a number of strands of the new arrangements:

  • developing a register of higher education provision in England [Note 5]
  • consulting on proposed revisions to HEFCE’s Financial Memorandum [Note 6]
  • operating of a new system of specific-course designation for alternative providers [Note 7]
  • implementing further changes to student number controls, including extending them to alternative providers from 2014-15.

The Government has announced that it intends to delegate to HEFCE responsibility for the process of approving designation of HEFCE-funded universities and colleges, and for providing assurance that the agreed terms and conditions are met. Eligible courses at these institutions are and will continue to be designated automatically, allowing students to access student support. Institutions will not be required to undergo a separate designation process. This means that in practice there will be little change for existing institutions, and no additional administrative burden.

The RPG, which is chaired by HEFCE and the Student Loans Company (SLC), is publishing a summary of the current and proposed regulatory and funding arrangements, ‘Operating framework for higher education in England’ [Note 8].

Tim Melville-Ross (Chair of HEFCE), who co-chairs the RPG with Ed Smith (Chair of SLC), said:

‘The new arrangements are designed to safeguard the interests of students, ensure proper accountability for the use of public funds, and protect and enhance the reputation of higher education in England. HEFCE, SLC and the RPG will work with Government, universities, colleges and other higher education providers to implement them in an even-handed and proportionate way, keeping the administrative burden on institutions to a minimum and respecting institutional autonomy.’


  1. The announcement is available below.

    Written ministerial statement: higher education regulatory reforms

    Download the HE Reforms Written Ministerial Statement as PDF (283 KB) 

  2. This is available on the Government's web-site
  3. The Regulatory Partnership Group (RPG) was established in September 2011 by HEFCE and the Student Loans Company. Its purpose is to advise Government, HEFCE and other national agencies on policy, strategic and operational issues arising from the development of the new funding and regulatory arrangements for higher education. The Group is made up of the Chairs, Chief Executives and Deputy Chief Executives of HEFCE and the Student Loans Company, and the Chief Executives of the sector agencies that have a role in the regulatory framework: the Higher Education Statistics Agency, the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education, the Office of the Independent Adjudicator and the Office for Fair Access. The National Union of Students, Universities UK, GuildHE, UCAS and the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills sit as observers.
  4. The letter from David Willetts to Tim Melville-Ross, 2 July 2013, is available in Annex A of HEFCE Circular Letter 20 2013.
  5. The register will provide a public record of clear, reliable information on higher education providers that are part of the regulated sector. It will be published in August 2014.
  6. This consultation will take place in autumn 2013.
  7. See our pages on specific-course designation.  
  8. See ‘Operating framework for higher education in England

Page last updated 11 July 2013

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