In July 2015 the Minister for Education and Skills announced a review of the oversight and regulation of post-compulsory education and training in Wales, with particular reference to the future role and functions of the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW). Our previous briefing on the review is here:
The Welsh Government appointed Professor Ellen Hazelkorn, Policy Advisor to the Higher Education Authority (Ireland), and Director, Higher Education Policy Research Unit (HEPRU), Dublin Institute of Technology, to undertake the review. Professor Hazelkorn interviewed a wide range of stakeholders from across the post-compulsory sector. Her report, Towards 2030: A Framework for Building a World-Class Post-Compulsory Education System for Wales, was published on 10 March. The report is accessible here:
This briefing outlines the main points in the report and the possible implications for the post-compulsory education and training sector.
Findings of the Review
The report notes “a confluence of social, economic and broader competitive factors” as challenging “traditional assumptions, structures and governance arrangements” for post-16 education. In the light of these it proposes “ a more sophisticated approach” to post-compulsory education governance, ensuring “more effective co-ordination amongst public institutions and Welsh societal goals” in order to “enhance educational and career opportunities and quality”, “underpin regional, social, cultural and economic development” and “boost institutional and national global competitiveness.”
Status of the Welsh post-compulsory system
The report notes the “complexity” of current arrangements for governance, regulation, quality assurance and performance review of post-compulsory education and training providers and the “desire for better coherence in provision, improved quality and strengthened critical mass”. The report identifies a number of issues including:
- “accelerating competition” between providers within the UK and internationally;
- “insufficient strategic thinking” by government or institutions, leading to “insufficient collaboration, lack of critical mass and too much competition for limited resources”;
- absence of an overall vision for the system aligned to the social, cultural and economic needs of Wales;
- “confusion around the roles” of the various actors and agencies in the system;
- “absence of coherent learning pathways”;
- “inability to attract and retain talent in Wales”, due to inadequate educational and employment opportunities.
The review examined the approached taken in eleven jurisdictions and found that:
- intermediary organisations “played a significant role” in regulating the post-compulsory system;
- "system” approaches enabled the development of “strategic, co-ordinated and coherent approaches” to educational provision which balanced the needs of society with those of institutions;
- Negotiated performance agreements “helped to shape the system in ways which met national objectives and intuitional missions”; and
- institutional profiling “can help differentiate institutional missions for the benefit of government, institutions, students and stakeholders”.
- The report concluded that reform should focus on:
- adoption of a system perspective;
- establishment of a new post-compulsory intermediary body with legal powers; and
- better alignment between national policy priorities, institutional funding and performance, while “respecting institutional autonomy”.
The report states that its recommendations are underpinned by the following key principles, summarised here using the terms used in the report’s Executive Summary:
- Learning for Life
- Societal Contribution
- Competition and Diversity
- Learner Focus
- Institutional Autonomy.
The report identifies six high level recommendations, which it says will require legislation, which should be brought forward as soon as possible:
- Develop an overarching vision for the Welsh post-compulsory education system based on stronger links between policy makers, providers and social and economic goals;
- Establish a single new authority, the Tertiary Education Authority (TEA) as the regulatory, oversight and co-ordinating authority for the sector;
- Establish clear and flexible learning and career pathways;
- Ensure civic engagement is embedded as a core mission for all post-compulsory education institutions;
- Create a better balance between supply-led and demand-led provision, moving from a market-demand driven system to “a mix of regulation and competition based” funding;
- Better long-term and joined-up thinking about Welsh educational needs.
Implications for institutions
The report’s recommendations chime well with the developments in rationalising and integrating Welsh further education provision in recent years, under the reconfiguration agenda. It is therefore perhaps unsurprising that a number of FE sector bodies have publicly welcomed the report. Some colleges may see the creation of a single regulator as being likely to help them if they wish to undertake, or undertake more, higher education, in collaboration with higher education institutions.
While the reconfiguration agenda has affected Welsh HEIs also, albeit to a lesser extent than FE institutions, the report’s recommendations may raise more concerns in the higher education sector. There is likely to be a worry that a new single regulator is likely to operate in a different way from HEFCW, whose expertise and understanding of the HE sector may be lost. There may also be concerns about possible diminution in institutional autonomy under the proposed system, despite the report’s assurances as to the need for this to be an important balancing factor. It is, however, difficult to assess the validity of such concerns until the detail of the legislation needed to implement the review is available.
The report identifies four matters as needing further consideration:
- Optimum configuration of the new TEA;
- Whether sixth form education should come under the remit of the TEA;
- The need for a strategic review of research capacity and capability;
- The need for a service level agreement between the Welsh Government and the TEA to regulate their relationship.
The Welsh Government announcement of the issue of the report states that the report was published promptly “to ensure stakeholders have ample opportunity to consider the report before Easter recess” but gives no deadline for submission of responses. Consideration by the Welsh Government of the recommendations is likely to be delayed by the impending Assembly election. It would, however, be prudent for institutions to submit any comments to the Department of Education and Skills as soon as possible.