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UK higher education is undergoing rapid change. Our future quality assessment arrangements must continue to be internationally respected, to have the confidence of students, and to support a world-class HE sector.  

We are looking to develop innovative approaches that are risk-based, proportionate, affordable, and low burden. Any new arrangements must build on established strengths and good practice, including institutions’ own robust quality assurance systems, and reflect the values and cultures of higher education. They will also need to demonstrate value for taxpayers’ and students’ money.

Over the coming months we will therefore be listening carefully to the sector, the National Union of Students (NUS), Government and other stakeholders. This offers a valuable opportunity to work together to explore fresh approaches to quality assessment in a fast-evolving and increasingly diverse higher education environment. The views of students, universities and colleges will be crucial in designing the tender specification.  We will establish a Steering Group to oversee the whole process, including the tender specification. The Steering Group will include representatives from the sector, the NUS and the funding bodies.

The existing quality arrangements will continue in 2015-16. Any new arrangements will operate from September 2017. We expect to conduct some pilot activity in 2016-17 and will continue to deal with any issues of quality or standards that may arise. We will discuss these arrangements with individual institutions that are scheduled for review in 2016-17, and we will ensure that those institutions currently due for review in early 2017-18 under the existing method will have time to prepare for any changes.

The Scottish Funding Council in partnership with Universities Scotland and NUS Scotland will be separately reviewing the approach to assessment of quality for Scottish universities in a parallel process on a similar timescale. The four HE funding bodies in England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland will keep in close touch throughout these processes to ensure that we learn from each other and develop the best possible arrangements for each of our countries.

Notes

1. The funding bodies are, respectively, the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), the Department for Employment and Learning (DEL), and the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW). Quality assessment in the UK is currently conducted by the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) under contract to the UK funding bodies. 

2.  HEFCE, HEFCW and DELNI are legally responsible for securing that provision is made for assessing the quality of education provided in institutions for whose activities they provide, or are considering providing, financial support.

3. See frequently asked questions about this announcement