My thoughts on the higher education green paper

The Government has recently release a Green Paper entitled Fulfilling our potential: teaching excellence, social mobility and student choice. The University of Warwick has already pulled together a list of all of the commentary that has been published on the paper. However, as far as I can see no one has particularly focused on the careers aspects.

In essence the paper seeks to create a new set of market regulations which will help to justify an increase in marketisation of the higher education sector. The Minister makes the following argument.

Now that we are asking young people to meet more of the costs of their degrees once they are earning, we in turn must do more than ever to ensure they can make well-informed choices, and that the time and money they invest in higher education is well spent.

In essence the paper creates a new framework, that in theory at least, will help potential students to make higher education decisions and drive HEIs behaviour in ways that incentivise good teaching and a focus on employability. The stakeholders in this reform are imagined variously as students, graduate employers and society as a whole.

The key conceptual elements of the Green Paper’s proposals are:

  • increased choice
  • broadening the market of providers
  • simplifying (or at least changing) the management and regulation of the sector
  • improving teaching on the basis that what is measured will matter
  • providing students with more information
  • creating a better alignment between educational decision making, HE provision and the graduate labour market
  • improving social mobility

In order to achieve this a new reporting and monitoring framework (the Teaching Excellence Framework or TEF) is proposed. There is considerable detail in the Green Paper that will presumably change and evolve as this moves towards becoming official policy. However, it appears that what is imagined is strongly dependent on existing monitoring instruments. This does raise the issue of whether the TEF is really providing new information or simply increasing the importance of existing information to HEIs businesses.

In essence the new proposals would result in a more marketised HE system. As a result the government hopes that the system is more dynamic. However this dynamism brings risks which the paper suggests can be dealt with both by more regulation from the new Office of Students and by the development of a stronger information environment. It is unclear to me whether there is really going to be much additional information and, if there is, whether the availability of this information will actually impact on students decisions.

What is clear is that the paper gives little attention to how people actually encounter information or make educational and life choices. There is already a very sophisticated information environment for higher education decision making. What is lacking is access to the career education, advice and guidance that might help young people to actually engage with it and make sense of it.

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