The Higher Education and Research Bill: What’s Changing?

Guest post by Gill Evans, Professor Emeritus of Medieval Theology and Intellectual History at the University of Cambridge

History demonstrates a longstanding need for vigilance about the creeping powers of Secretaries of State and the enthusiasm of Governments for greater state control. Since early in the twentieth century two important protections had maintained a balance. First, the Haldane Principle – the notion that “decisions about what to spend research funds on should be made by researchers rather than politicians”, and second, the autonomy of universities. Replacing public funding of teaching by tuition fees and reorganising the public funding of research now throws this tested machinery into question.

Last week saw publication of the White Paper Success as a Knowledge Economy, rapidly followed by the Higher Education and Research Bill, the most comprehensive piece of higher education legislation since the Further and Higher Education Act 1992. This proposes a radical reduction of the numbers of ‘sector bodies’. How direct may future Government interference be, with the new or continuing ‘sector bodies’ and with institutions themselves?

The ‘Government bodies’ which are to be rearranged for merger are untidily clustered in two ways in the White Paper, as shown in Figure 1. There are to be two new statutory bodies, the Office for Students (OfS) and a single research funding body, UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).

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