Interesting Reads This Week

UK lessons taken to heart: we must do better

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This is the second in a new series we are trying out - a weekly post about a few of the things we read this week and found useful. We are including some brief commentary on each piece. In general, the things we recommend to read will relate to some of the larger themes we have been covering in the newsletter: the new federal regulations in the US, the challenges of microcredentials, online and hybrid education and OPMs, etc. But occasionally something will just be interesting and worth sharing.

Must do better

This was the title of a recent report from the House of Lords about the higher education sector in the UK, and specifically the Office for Students (OfS) that regulates it. Must do better was also quite honestly the thought that crossed my mind as I read the Gainful Employment regulations released this week by the US Department of Education, but my hopes about them listening to actual higher education providers will likely remain unrequited. But back to the UK and the House of Lords.

The report is well worth reading even if you aren’t interested in the minutiae of UK higher education policy. It is interesting both from the perspective of the sharp tone they take with the regulatory bodies, but also from their insights that raise some interesting questions and comparisons with the US.

The Lords take issue with many aspects of the OfS, including its regulatory framework, which is described as “overly prescriptive.” The report complains that the regulatory body has been “overly distant and combative” in its relationships with the sector, some of this stemming from the fact that it lacks political independence. Of course, none of this sort of thing would happen here in the land of the free and the home of the think tank.

The net result, the Lords argue, is that the regulatory body:

is not trusted by and does not have the confidence of many of the providers it regulates. But it has arguably not acted in the real interests of students either.

Again, nothing we would know anything about here. But the report goes on to do an excellent job of laying out some of the consequences of this regulatory problem, especially around financial sustainability of higher ed in the UK, value for money for students, and quality. On the quality issue they strike an odd tone in that they see a perceived quality decline as being the consequence of a shift away from European quality standards (umm, Brexit called, and they want their referendum back).

On the issue of financial sustainability, the Wall Street Journal takes up the issue with an excellent article laying out the issues that the report raises. The article is long, but not as long as the Lord’s report, and it has fewer oddly spelled words, honorifics, and baronesses.

The problem, as laid out by the WSJ, is that fees at UK universities (introduced in 1998) for domestic students have increased the cost for students, but they have been capped and at such a low rate that many universities lose money on every UK student they admit. The funding is just not sustainable.

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