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What are the area-based reviews?

The Department for Education are overseeing a programme of area-based reviews of post-16 further education in England.

The aim is to ensure that there is the right capacity to meet the needs of students and employers in each area.

Read more information on the process from the Government's webpages. 

HEFCE's role

HEFCE is working to ensure that higher education interests are taken into account in the review process. This is so the reviews do not have unintended consequences for higher education.

Data HEFCE is providing

HEFCE is also providing review leads with data on the higher education provision offered by the colleges and universities in each area under review. 

This data includes breakdowns of the student population for each university and college by:

  • subject area
  • level of study
  • domicile (including numbers from low participation neighbourhoods).

The data is based on the Data Service Individualised Learner Record and Higher Education Statistics Agency Student Record for 2013-14. We expect to use 2014-15 data from spring 2016.

HEFCE guidance on the mergers process

HEFCE have developed the following guidance for colleges who are considering merging. This guidance provides some practical information that merging colleges who offer Higher Education provision will need to consider. HEFCE will contact colleges that it is advised are intending to merge, highlighting the potential implications for higher education that they will need to consider. These include:

We will also ask for information from colleges so we can be sure that proposed structural changes do not affect our legal ability to fund higher education in the new college. For example, we are not legally empowered to fund academies. We will also need to determine the merged college’s status in the new quality assessment framework, which will be fully introduced in 2017-18.

Colleges considering merging should notify their institutional contact who can provide support to ensure that the higher education provision transitions effectively through the merger process. There is a brief overview of the possible implications for higher education below: 

Implications to HEFCE funding

We will need to make arrangements for the transfer of recurrent teaching funding and any other funding allocations that the college currently receives. Some elements of funding, such as capital funding and some targeted allocations, are based on particular weightings and thresholds. Changes to student numbers as a result of a merger may therefore have an impact upon the funding for the new college.

Colleges should note that if either institution is due to re-pay any HEFCE grant for historic data adjustments, this expectation will fall to the new institution as part of the transfer of assets and liabilities once the merger has taken place.

Designation for student support and entry on the register of HE providers

We will update the HEFCE Register of HE Providers with the college’s new status. We will notify the Student Loans Company (SLC) and the Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA) once the changes to funding have been made. 

We would recommend that colleges liaise with SLC at an early stage so that any changes relating to their systems can be made in order to allow continuing students to access student support at the new institution. It may also be helpful to contact the OIA separately to notify them of the merger.

Student interest

We assume that as part of the merger process colleges consult with, and consider the needs of, continuing students so that they have every opportunity to finish their studies. 

Colleges may wish to consider the Competition and Markets Authority's advice on consumer protection law in relation to HE.

Public information

Once the relevant college(s) have has formally dissolved, responsibility for public information relating to the college will pass through to the new institution.

The new institution will be required to submit a KIS record reflecting the provision it will be delivering in the following academic year to ensure accurate information is available to prospective students on the Unistats website. 

Data returns and monitoring of targeted funding allocation

Once an institution has merged it will be necessary to ensure that historic data and records relating to HE students are kept accurately as it is likely that further data reconciliations will be required in re-calculating historic grant allocations, as well as ensuring public information sources are accurate. 

There may be implications for the merged college in relation to monitoring targeted funding allocations for widening access, improving retention and improving provision for disabled students. Should the number of HE students increase beyond a certain threshold due to the merger, the merged college may be required to submit a complete monitoring forms in future years.

Quality assurance

If either institution has a QAA Higher Education Review action plan in place the QAA will be able to advise on the appropriate steps. If any party is subject to HEFCE’s Unsatisfactory Quality Policy (UQP) we will discuss the implications of this with you directly.

OFFA access agreements

If the merged institution is planning on charging tuition fees beyond the basic fee level, that is, above £6000 for full-time students, and £4500 for part-time students, then it will need an Access Agreement from the Office for Fair Access (OFFA).

If the merged institution already has an Access Agreement, it should still contact OFFA to discuss any changes that may need to be made in relation to the current agreement. 

Degree awarding powers 

Colleges that hold UK degree awarding powers (either foundation or taught) are required to notify the Department for Education about a potential merger as early as possible.

Page last updated 18 August 2016