Welcome to part three of our coverage of the Academies Show 2018. In the third session of the day, the audience was joined by Ross Renton, the Pro Vice-Chancellor of Worcester University. Mr Renton is responsible for leading strategy for improving the student experience at the University as well as student success. In addition, Mr Renton works with the University’s professional services to improve student outcomes and creates academic and community partnership.  

The Higher Education and Research Act

Mr Renton’s presentation outlined the “significant regulatory changes” happening within higher education (HE) in the UK, and the impact these changes will have on current and future secondary level students, starting with the Higher Education and Research Act (HERA).  

HERA was something of a watershed for HE providers; Mr Renton outlined how financing in HE has “changed from state funding to being funded directly by students.” The current system of funding works by sharing the cost between taxpayers and students, which has reduced the taxpayer burden while increasing the long-term financial burden on students. The current system of funding higher education tuition in the UK is split between 35% from government and 65% from graduates.  

The Office for Students

Due to the significant financial burden being placed on students and graduates, there is a new emphasis on value for money from HE courses. Mr Renton introduced the brand-new Office for Students as “the market regulators” for a relationship that is becoming increasingly centred on “consumer interests;” although Mr Renton made it clear that the University of Worcester “don’t believe the relationship we have with students is transactional.”  

Mr Renton went on to clarify the, somewhat mysterious, Office for Students’ role in this changing landscape: “Previously, HE providers were assessed by several regulators; now there will be only one regulatory body.” The OfS will be responsible for overseeing, amongst other areas, the academic provision of an HE provider and their financial stability. Under the new OfS regulatory framework, all institutions must have a “contingency plan for students if degree awarding powers are removed.”  

The OfS will also oversee access to HE, taking over the responsibility from the Office for Fair Access. As part of their work, the OfS will “address access to tertiary education for students from all backgrounds.” 

Students and HE Providers – A New Relationship

During the presentation, Mr Renton spoke at length about how the relationship between HE providers and students is changing; “value for money” has never been such a high priority in HE, and students are increasingly approaching tertiary education from the perspective of a client. However, “defining value for money in tertiary education is challenging.” Likewise, new challenges are emerging due to this changing attitude from students, namely “students as consumers have the potential to become more demanding.”  

The good news is that with the introduction of the OfS’ methods for measuring success (in the form of the Teaching Excellence Framework), prospective students will have more information than ever before about HE providers around the UK. These “lead indicators will help students make better choices… [and will help them] better understand what the course and institution has done to prepare students for the world of work.” Mr Renton also pointed out that having access to more information on HE providers will be greatly beneficial for those who are supporting students during the final years of secondary education, namely careers advisors and parents.  

Building Partnerships Between Secondary and Tertiary-Level Institutions

Mr Renton concluded the presentation by encouraging schools and academies to create partnerships with HE providers, with the specific aim to start interactions between secondary-level students and tertiary institutions at a young age “to help schools raise attainment.” Of course, both parties need to be realistic about the practical benefits, which is why Mr Renton urged the audience to “understand what both parties want, and what their agenda is.”  

This brave new world of education in the UK requires both secondary and tertiary-level institutions to be open and flexible. Although there will undoubtedly be kinks to iron out, the OfS certainly appears to be helping students assess their options and make betterinformed choices for their futures.  

Looking for more information on the OfS? Check out our highlights of the 2018 Academies Show or check out our brief outline of all the sessions we attended.

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