Introduction

On 14 July 2015 Huw Lewis, Minister for Education and Skills, announced in a Written Statement the commissioning of an independent review of “the scope for a better alignment of the arrangements for oversight activity in and between the institutions involved in the provision of post-compulsory education and training”. The Written Statement can be accessed here:

The Written Statement states that the background to the Review is that the oversight arrangements have developed “over time and are set out in a number of different policy documents and statutes. This has resulted in a number of oversight activities undertaken by a variety of bodies including the Welsh Government, HEFCW and Estyn. As a consequence there are different arrangements for, different degrees of engagement with, and different levels of effectiveness in the delivery of a number of oversight functions”. In particular the Minister had already indicated (in the Welsh Government Sponsored Body Framework Document on HEFCW, published in September 2014) that a periodic review of HEFCW would be commenced “before the end of 2016”.

The Review is to be undertaken by Prof. Ellen Hazelkorn, Policy Adviser to the Higher Education Authority in Ireland and Director of the Higher Education Research Unit, Dublin Institute of Technology. Prof. Hazelkorn is also author of Rankings and the Reshaping of Higher Education. Prof. Hazelkorn “will commence the Review in October and report to [the Minister] in the spring [2016].”

Terms of Reference of the Review

The Terms of Reference of the Review (which are not attached to the electronic version of the Written Statement) are as follows:

  1. To review, analyse and document the current arrangements for the oversight of post-compulsory education and training in Wales, including:
    • funding of education and training;
    • governance;
    • quality assurance / standards of education and training; and 
    • management of risk.
  2. To advise on the effectiveness of current arrangements for the oversight of post-compulsory education and training in Wales judged by reference to other UK nations, relevant international comparators and research evidence.
  3. To make recommendations for the future oversight of post-compulsory education and training in Wales with particular reference to the role of the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales.
  4. To indicate whether there may be a need for legislation and new or reformed institutional arrangements to take forward future arrangements proposed in the light of this evaluation.

Comment

While the context set out by the Minister in the Statement explains the desirability of the Review, the width of the Terms of Reference means that Prof. Hazelkorn will have a substantial challenge to complete such a wide ranging undertaking in the timescale proposed. It may also be asked whether such a review might have been better undertaken before the passing of the Higher Education (Wales) Act, which when brought into force will give HEFCW important new functions and powers. The Review adds to the complexity of the network of reviews of higher education in Wales (already subject to the Diamond Review of HE Funding and Student Finance and the review of quality assessment arrangements in England, Wales and Northern Ireland being led by HEFCE.) The prospect of further change may also concern Welsh further education colleges, which are now just settling down in their new order following a period of major structural reconfiguration and of streamlining of governance under the Further and Higher Education (Governance and Information) (Wales) Act.