The consultation follows the White Paper, 'Higher education: students at the heart of the system' (June 2011), which signals the Government's intention to establish a more integrated and transparent regulatory framework for higher education (Note 2).
The White Paper proposes a new role for the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) as an independent 'lead regulator', working in partnership with the other higher education regulatory bodies. BIS is now consulting on the detail of the new framework, to take effect from 2013, and as part of that, on HEFCE's new role and responsibilities, including as a 'single gateway' for entry to the higher education sector (Note 3). This will include new responsibilities for HEFCE in relation to degree-awarding powers, university title and designation for access to student support funding and HEFCE grants.
HEFCE will work openly and constructively with students, universities, colleges, other providers of higher education and other partners to support the development and implementation of the framework that results from the BIS consultation. We are committed to reducing the regulatory burden on institutions wherever possible, commensurate with our proposed role of protecting the interests of students and taxpayers.
The HEFCE Board will be considering how best to respond to the BIS consultation over the coming weeks and months.
Sir Alan Langlands, HEFCE's Chief Executive, said:
'The Government's vision is for a proportionate, risk-based approach to regulation that will safeguard the interests of students and taxpayers, while minimising bureaucracy and ensuring that universities and colleges continue to have the autonomy, academic freedom and incentives they need to deliver a high-quality student experience.
'HEFCE will work closely and collaboratively with the Government, the sector, and our partner organisations to support the development of a transparent, fit-for-purpose regulatory framework that serves the student interest. We also look forward to maintaining and developing good working relationships with further education colleges that provide higher education, and with alternative providers, to ensure there is a level playing field for all organisations that wish to benefit from public funding.
'We welcome the Government's recognition of the need for an independent regulator, operating at arm's length from Government. This is a crucial element in respecting the principles of institutional autonomy and academic freedom – principles that will continue to underpin the success of higher education in England. Governors, vice-chancellors and principals are, and must continue to be, the best judges of the way forward for their institutions and students.
'HEFCE will intervene only where necessary to ensure a fair and consistent approach to quality, access, information and financial sustainability. We will seek to reduce the overall regulatory burden on universities and colleges wherever possible, aiming to limit costs to the taxpayer and the sector. Above all, we will strive to protect and promote the interests of students.'