The government will aim to slash red tape in a bid to reduce “bureaucratic burdens” on universities, the universities minister has told vice-chancellors. Speaking at the annual Universities UK (UUK) conference on 10 September, Michelle Donelan said the government will axe bureaucracy that might distract universities from their core teaching- and research-related activities.
Ms Donelan will work alongside research minister Amanda Solloway and innovation minister James Bethell, and in conjunction with the Office for Students (OfS), UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), to “refocus resources on the core essential activities of research and teaching”. As part of her plan to cut bureaucracy for universities, minister Donelan announced a “radical, root and branch” review of the National Student Survey (NSS), which will be led by the OfS and conclude by December 2020. The government is concerned that the NSS – which was launched in 2005 – is “open to gaming” and expensive and bureaucratic for academics. There is a concern from some in the sector that good scores can more easily be achieved through dumbing down and spoon-feeding students, rather than pursuing high standards and embedding subject knowledge and intellectual skills.
Ms Donelan also wants the OfS to reduce compliance monitoring to a “very small fraction of the cases that are currently subject to enhanced monitoring”. She expects the regulator to report its reductions to the DfE in three months. In a separate statement the OfS set out its measures to reduce unnecessary burden on universities and other higher education providers. The OfS said that “providers have now largely satisfied the enhanced monitoring requirements we imposed at initial registration, and, where this is the case, we have removed them. As we move into a more established regulatory environment, we expect our use of enhanced monitoring, which seeks to mitigate increased risk, to significantly reduce”.
The OfS will work with UKRI and the higher education funding bodies for the devolved administrations to agree the scope of a review of TRAC, which will be overseen by a joint action group reporting to the Regulators and Funders (Financial Sustainability) Group. The review is expected to focus on understanding the burdens associated with the TRAC system and to evaluate this in relation to its benefits. The OfS will also advance its UK-wide Data Futures project to reform the way student-level data is collected and reduce registration fees by 10% in real terms over two years.