Press release

Student choice at the heart of new higher education reforms

The government has published a green paper outlining proposals to put students at the heart of higher education.


The government today (6 November 2015) outlined ambitious proposals to put students at the heart of higher education. The reforms are designed to boost teaching standards, support more people into university from disadvantaged backgrounds, and ensure better value for money and employment prospects for students.

A green paper published today – Fulfilling our Potential: Teaching Excellence, Social Mobility and Student Choice – will consult on proposals to:

  • drive up teaching standards and give students more information through a new Teaching Excellence Framework that will encourage a greater focus on high quality teaching and graduate employment prospects
  • widen participation for students from disadvantaged backgrounds and encourage providers to increase focus on supporting all students through their course and into employment or further study. A new Social Mobility Advisory Group would report to the Universities Minister with a plan to meet the Prime Minister’s ambitions to increase the proportion of disadvantaged students entering higher education and increase the number of BME students by 20% by 2020
  • enable students to choose from a wider range of high-quality higher education providers by making it less bureaucratic to establish a new university through faster access to Degree Awarding Powers and University Title
  • establish a new Office for Students to promote the student interest and value for money, and reduce the regulatory burden on the sector

Universities and Science Minister Jo Johnson said:

We must do more to ensure that the time and money students invest in higher education is well spent.

Our ambition is to drive up the quality of teaching in our universities to ensure students and taxpayers get value for money and employers get graduates with the skills they need.

The new Office for Students would have a clear remit to champion value for money and the student interest in its decision-making. And by opening up the sector to new universities and colleges, students will have more choice than ever when they come to apply to university.

A consultation on the proposals in the green paper opens today and will run for 10 weeks, closing on 15 January 2016.

Notes to Editors

  1. We will host a number of national consultation events in London and Sheffield, with details available soon.

  2. The green paper will seek views on implementing the following proposals:

Teaching Excellence

Through the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) there will be stronger incentives for excellent teaching and students will have more information about the type of teaching they can expect and their likely career paths after graduation. The TEF will use measures such as student satisfaction, student retention rates and graduate job prospects. Higher education institutions providing high quality teaching would be able to increase tuition fees in line with inflation. Those that fail to meet expectations would risk losing additional fee income.

The TEF will also encourage providers to adopt the grade point average (GPA) alongside traditional degree classifications. The GPA uses a 13-point scale and takes account of student performance during their course, not just in final exams. This can help to engage and motivate students to work hard throughout their courses and gives employers more granular information about student performance.

Social Mobility

Record numbers of students secured university places this year, including from disadvantaged backgrounds. The proportion of people from disadvantaged backgrounds entering higher education has risen from 13.6% in 2009 to 18.2% in 2014. The green paper sets out further proposals to ensure universities are engines of social mobility.

A new Social Mobility Advisory Group will report to the Universities Minister with a plan to meet the Prime Minister’s ambitions to double the proportion of disadvantaged students entering higher education and increase the number of BME students by 20% by 2020.

The government will also strengthen guidance to the Director of Fair Access. Alongside efforts to recruit disadvantaged students, we will encourage greater emphasis on successful outcomes for under-represented groups, helping to tackle drop-out rates and help all students progress into employment or further study.

Reducing regulatory burdens and creating an Office for Students

The Office for Students (OfS) would bring together existing functions on quality, teaching excellence, market entry and social mobility, including by merging the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) and the Office for Fair Access (OFFA). For the first time, the main higher education regulator would have a clear duty to promote the student interest when making decisions and will be responsible for ensuring value for money for students and taxpayers.

The OfS would also have new powers requiring bodies providing a higher education service to release data in order to better inform students and help the whole higher education sector understand how best to focus their efforts on widening participation for disadvantaged students.

We would move to a risk-based approach to regulation so that resources are concentrated where they are needed.

Creating a single entry route for higher education providers

Proposals in the green paper would establish a level playing field in the regulation of new and established universities and a single gateway for those wishing to enter the market. The proposals would also speed up the process by which a new provider can gain powers to award their own degrees and call themselves a university.

Protecting students in the event of market exit

With a more diverse market, the green paper also sets out proposals to protect students if an institution exits the market. We would introduce a new student protection requirement, ensuring students continue to be taught or can receive financial compensation. We would require all providers to have a contingency plan which supports students to continue their studies.

Simplifying the research funding system

We are committed to maintaining the dual support funding system, the Haldane principle and scientific excellence, and envisage a simpler system enabling the research base to increase its strategic impact. We will consider the recommendations from Sir Paul Nurse’s review of the Research Councils. We are also consulting in this green paper on ideas to reduce the burden and costs of the Research Excellence Framework (REF), while retaining its strengths, to ensure we continue to support excellent research across the UK.

Published 6 November 2015