Is HEFCE part of the solution or the problem ?

Implicit in the current BIS Consultations on Skills on which I blogged recently, is an assumption that the HEFCE funding structures are part of the solution – as opposed to being one of the UKs most bloated quangos – long overdue for reform. One of my readers has reminded me of my previous blogs  on the damage done by the decision of HEFCE to stop funding university places for those working towards Equivalent and Lower Qualifications (ELQs). For example the Open University would get no central funding for some-one with a PhD in Archeology who wished to change careers. I should add that I know at least two Archeologists who used the experience of digging up the past to leverage ICT careers, helping to create the future. But that was before our current educational and professional structures ossified. 

The decision was identified at the time as a particular problem for those such as the Open University and Birkbeck. I am told that the best summary is a letter (2008) from the OU Vice-Chancellor. There were also a couple of earlier press releases and an update in the Times Higher (2009) on the impact on OU science degrees. Birkbeck similarly collected their materials on the subject.


The predictions are now becoming reality.

The Birkbeck courses (unlike the OU’s) are now differentially priced: e.g. (ELQ: £600 full fee, £300 concessionary Non-ELQ: £455 full fee, £225 concessionary)


Most of the post graduate students studying the technologies of the future are our remaining world class institutions are from overseas, at least until the Immigration and Passport Service prvents them from coming.  Meanwhile the Masters Courses to update graduates with the disciplines and skills in shortest supply, such as cybersecurity skills, are similarly dominated by overseas students paying full fees.


Around the world operations built upon the moduler course and networked learning approaches pioneered by Birkbeck and OU lie at the heart of the education and training structures of our most successful competitors.


Rather than look to HEFCE for answers we should look to those who are supplying the courses and qualifications that are in demand around the world. We should also look at why they are not available in the UK: usually because they are outside our public funding regimes and those who would provide them, at the same time as receiving public funding for UK students who cannot afford them, are actively punished.


Is the objective of the current review is to update ways of funding with their roots entrenched in the wartime politics of 1917 and 1944? Or is to genuinely look to creating world class structures for the 21st Century. At that point we should look at how some of our oldest Universities, which also feature at or near the top of the world rankings, are also among those most active in helping run global, not just intra-UK, courses and qualifications at all levels. 


I am not a “progressive” and am suspicious of proposals for revolutionary change, but when the forces of evolution are resisted for too long, the process of natural selection can be rather brutal. While I believe strongly that we need to mix the best of the old with the best of the new, time is no longer on our side and I would rather sacrifice the senile than throw the babies out with the bathwater.   


That said, and you can make of my mixed metaphors what you will, read the BIS Consultations and respond.