The higher education green paper in a nutshell

Friday 06-11-2015 - 11:22

The government has today outlined new proposals for the higher education sector within its green paper. But what does it mean for students and academics?

We’ve put together a summary of the key proposals made by government in their consultation paper - Fulfilling our Potential: Teaching Excellence, Social Mobility and Student Choice – to bring you up to speed with the changes outlined.

Teaching Excellence Framework

Teaching excellence is split into three parts; teaching quality, learning environment, and student outcomes and learning gain.

The government wish to use employment destination data as a metric for student outcomes. Student retention data and student satisfaction data from the NSS (teaching quality and learning environment) will also be used. There are new metrics proposed on student commitment to learning; training and employment of staff, including the proportion of staff on permanent contracts; and teaching intensity.

The Office for Students

The government propose merging HEFCE and the Office for Fair Access to create the ‘Office for Students’, which will coordinate access, teaching funding, teaching excellence (TEF) and quality assurance.

The Office for Students is expected to ‘empower students, strengthen competition, drive quality, eliminate unnecessary bureaucracy and save taxpayer money’.

Widening Participation

The government state concerns over the black attainment gap, but also the low attainment of disadvantaged white men, and low levels of access to selective institutions for disadvantaged groups. They seek to make improvements in this area by joining up work on access and widening participation in the Office for Students so that it can set institutions targets and goals on access and WP, and the ability to reject an access agreement if it fails to meet the set targets.

Private Providers

There is a proposal to remove barriers to entry for private providers and want to streamline and speed up process of obtaining degree-awarding powers.

Under the new proposals, a private provider could get degree awarding powers in less than four years and university status in less than five. The new, singular, process would be administered by the Office for Students.

Institutions may become exempt from the Freedom of Information Act and other public body requirements in order to create a level playing-field between public and private providers.

Green paper facts:

  • The green paper mentions ‘what employers want’ 35 times
  • The green paper mentions ‘value for money’ 27 times
  • The green paper mentions ‘what students want’ 23 times
  • The green paper mentions ‘mature students’  two times
  • The green paper mentions ‘part-time students’ one time


Regulation & student protections

The government proposes a new simplified, ‘light touch’ regulatory system operated by the Office for Students to ensure institutions meet baseline conditions on quality, information and student protection.

All providers, including private ones, will be assessed under the same regulatory system. Student protections are to be put in place to ensure students can complete their study or to compensate the student against financial loss where continuation is not possible. Students should be found an alternative course and given support to transfer. If the student does not accept a new place, they will be offered a full refund on their tuition fees.

Students’ Unions

The paper mentions the importance of students’ unions in the sector, but is seeking views on how to increase their transparency and accountability to their members. No further information was given on this, but it is clear that this thinking is linked to the government’s current reform of trade union democracy.

Sharia-compliant loans

The government have set out plans to introduce an alternative student finance product which is Sharia-compliant. NUS has been lobbying for Sharia loans for some time so this is an important announcement from government.


HEFCE will no longer allocate research funding and the research councils are to be reformed.

NUS has compiled an initial summary of the green paper’s key proposals, which is available here.


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