A Few Key Public Bodies in UK Higher Education

The UK higher education sector is a highly complex sector that comprises higher education providers, both public and private, government bodies and agencies, as well as bodies representing the various stakeholders associated with the sector. In this article, I present a few key bodies that one needs to be familiar with if they are to understand and successfully negotiate their way through the sector.

The Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS)

The BIS is a ministerial department whose key role is to promote and sustain economic growth in the UK. This includes overseeing the development of skills and education to support commerce, promoting trade and innovation, and supporting business set up and growth. Specifically for universities, the BIS oversees the implementation of government policy with respect to higher education. This includes the allocation of research and innovation funding, student tuition fees, and most recently the decision to improve the quality of learning and teaching through the introduction of the Teaching Excellency Framework.

The Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE)

HEFCE is responsible for funding and regulating universities and colleges in England.

HEFCE funding falls into two main categories – recurrent funding and non-recurrent funding. Recurrent funding includes the annual HEFCE teaching grant, which is currently distributed to regulated institutions on the basis of student numbers, the institutional research grant, which is distributed on the basis of performance in the Research Excellence Framework assessment, and, finally, knowledge exchange funding, whose aim is to enable universities to use their knowledge for the benefit of the economy and community. For example an institution can request knowledge exchange funding to establish a business to exploit its research. Non-recurrent funding includes capital funding, and funding for implementing government-mandated initiatives, for example widening participation activities.

HEFCE is responsible for registering higher education providers, maintaining the quality of higher education provision, and ensuring that higher education institutions comply with the UK charity regulations. A quality assessment framework is used to monitor teaching quality. HEFCE also gathers a wide range of student and institutional data, for example the institutional key information sets and the national student survey data. HEFCE also runs the Unistats website, which gives prospective students information and statistics on university courses.

The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA)

The QAA monitors and advises on standards ​and quality in UK higher education. The QAA’s remit applies to all institutions, whether in the UK, or in any location worldwide, which deliver courses leading to UK higher education qualifications. It carries out its work on behalf of the public bodies the fund UK higher education.

The QAA publishes and maintains the UK Quality Code for Higher Education. It also conducts quality reviews of higher education providers and reports its findings publicly. In addition, it also investigates concerns about academic quality and standards, as well as advising government on applications for degree awarding powers and the right to be called a university in the UK.

The Higher Education Academy (HEA)

The HEA is a public body, partly funded by government, and partly funded by UK higher education institutions, whose main objective is to champion and improve the status and quality of teaching in higher education. In this regard it has developed a set of professional standards and guidelines for learning and teaching in higher education known as the UK Professional Standards Framework (UKPSF).  This framework is serving as a basis for assessing and granting formal recognition to individuals who are involved in teaching or supporting learning in higher education. The framework provides recognition for an individual’s efforts to improve the quality of learning and teaching, and includes recognition for wider responsibilities that may include research and/or management activities. For this reason, the UKPSF has become an ideal platform for continuous professional development in learning and teaching in higher education.

The HEA also serves as a national hub for recognised best practice in learning and teaching in higher education. It achieves this through the organisation of teaching and learning conferences and events, and funding and publishing research in learning and teaching.

The National Union of Students (NUS)

The NUS is the umbrella body for higher education and further education student unions in the UK. At present 95% of all higher education and further education student unions in the UK are affiliated to the NUS. The NUS is the key student voice within UK higher education. It achieves this through promoting and upholding the rights of students across UK higher and further education. Students have become important stakeholders in the running and administration of universities, and for this reason, whatever your role in higher education, the NUS is a critical ally to have alongside you, and a very formidable opponent to go against.

Universities UK (UUK)

This is a membership organisation for UK universities. Currently its membership stands at 133. Its primary role is to speak up and champion the views and interests of the UK university sector. It reviews and comments on government policy relating to UK higher education, and, where necessary, formulates and advocates for alternative policies that it sees as beneficial to the sector. In addition to government, it also maintains close links with key stakeholders in higher education, including the private sector, the professions, and other sector bodies.

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