Students studying

OU welcomes HE White Paper

More degree awarding powers to new universities, recognising teaching quality and widening participation to HE was the rallying cry from Jo Johnson, Minister of State for Universities and Science in England, in the HE White Paper that promises to increase choice for students and promote social mobility.

Published today (16 May) Success as a Knowledge Economy: Teaching Excellence, Social Mobility and Student Choice echoes many of the recommendations in the Autumn 2015 Green Paper that looked at boosting competition and choice in higher education. These include a new regulator, measures to help the widening participation agenda, switching university courses, granting more degree awarding powers, research and Teaching Excellence Framework.

Speaking about the Paper Jo Johnson said, “Our universities are engines of economic growth and social mobility, but if we are to remain competitive and ensure that a high-quality education remains open to all, we cannot stand still. Making it easier for high-quality challenger institutions to start offering their own degrees will help drive up teaching quality, boost the economy and extend aspiration and life chances for students from all backgrounds.”

Flexible and lifetime learning

But behind the headlines what does this mean for The Open University? Of particular interest is the consultation, launched today alongside the White Paper, calling for evidence that will allow government to assess demand for accelerated courses and for switching universities and courses more easily, in particular how credit transfer can help enable flexible and lifetime learning, and drive up quality by giving students more choice. This is something that the OU has been calling for, for some time.

The reference to modular learning in this respect is also interesting. We believe the extension of tuition fee loan availability to include part-time module-only study would lead to an uplift in the number of people engaging with HE, particularly those already in work and keen to develop their skills and knowledge through part-time modular study.

There are also continued strong references to widening participation, improving life changes and lifetime learning. There is now a clear sense that these are focused on the learning lifecycle and outcomes rather than simply access to learning. There is also the recommitment to a review to identify the gaps in support for lifetime learning – including flexible and part-time study.

Disadvantaged students

Further detail is given on the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF), a quality assessment model with the aim of ensuring university students get an excellent learning experience and an equal status is given to teaching as to research. The White Paper outlines ambitions for UK teaching to be globally recognised, will look at the extent to which providers achieve positive outcomes for disadvantaged students. There was also confirmation that part-time courses will be incorporated as a result from the consultation.

The creation of a new, extensive data set specifically for the higher education sector (the Longitudinal Education Outcomes) will give prospective students a clearer picture on career develop from different institutions and courses. Giving greater visibility to the value placed on employability.

Peter Horrocks, Vice-Chancellor of the OU, has welcomed the paper highlighting the parallels in the Institution’s direction of travel and the policies in the White Paper.

The Open University, the largest and the only UK wide university, is committed to the success of the UK as a knowledge economy.  We share the Government’s ambition for teaching excellence, social mobility and student choice.  We welcome the White Paper’s express commitment to flexible, innovative and lifetime learning.  We are actively working with the Government on this agenda.

“Switching courses and universities (credit transfer) can give huge opportunities to maximise success for many more students - studying the right course, at the right university, at the right time.

“The Government will not meet its ambitious targets for much greater social mobility, better life chances and a more productive British economy unless many more adults gain part-time degrees, particularly where the skills gaps are greatest.”