HEFCE's website tells us that
at the first meeting the group agreed the following programme of work:Two points are of interest to me about this group.
- to map the current higher education system, so that there is a clear understanding of the contribution made by all the organisations and how they interact with universities, colleges and individual students
- to review the way that data is collected and used at present.
Firstly, consider the membership in terms of the individuals involved. I think only Alison Allden can claim any recent hands-on experience of 'the way that data is collected and used at present', given her time overseeing student administration at Bristol - but she was pretty high up at the time. her background is more in IT. Anthony McClaren spent about three years about fifteen years ago at a similar level of responsibility, before he became a quangocrat.
Now I have nothing against quangocrats. I have that on my CV too. But from this perspective the quangos, not the institutions, are the ivory towers. Life looks very different to those of us in the gutter, and the group doesn't seem to have given itself membership with the experience to do the job it has set itself.
Secondly, consider the membership in terms of the sector experience and background they represent. When the HEFCE Board was last refreshed, I commented that the chance to strengthen its experience of regulating private sector organisations had been missed. Now the chance to bring that perspective on board has been missed again.
There are two key transitions towards the marketised HE sector which the Government envisaged but which are not coming about. One is that new market entrants are not coming forward - not at all as far as I can see but certainly not at the rate that existing private providers are going out of business. The other is that HEFCE is not managing the transformation needed in its own role as shown not only here and in the Board issue I blogged about earlier, but also in the way it is taking forward a more interventionist approach to data management even as we speak (I got my first set of queries from HEFCE under this policy earlier today, as it happens).
There would be a neat irony if these two failures cancelled each other out, but much as I love irony I can't quite see it. There are still going to be quite a few private providers who will survive the UKBA well enough to enter the new world and fall under HEFCE regulation. The regulatory system is going to have to adapt. The longer we take to start making this transition, the more abrupt and painful it will be.