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The Higher Education white paper in a nutshell

Monday 16 May 2016 NUS News

The government has today followed up last year’s initial proposals for the Higher Education sector with a HE white paper. But what does this mean for students and students’ unions?

This morning the government published its white paper on Higher Education, building on November’s green paper consultation and outlining its vision for Higher Education reform over the coming year. We anticipate that this will be followed by the announcement of an HE Bill in the Queen’s Speech this coming Wednesday (18 May).

We’ve summarised the key headlines of what’s included in the white paper below:

Students’ union autonomy

Following orchestral sector support for SUs in response to the green paper, the white paper contains just three paragraphs that suggest low level changes to students’ unions.

Differential fees

Whilst the process of linking the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) to fees has been slowed and any link to differential fees has been shelved until 2019, these plans still remain and form something we must continue to challenge.


Access has been expanded to include more than just entry to university. HEIs will have to provide action statements with the government expecting to see access, retention and progression all accounted for.

Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF)

TEF metrics will be broken down by POLAR (Participation of Local Areas) quintile, allowing for panels to consider performance for disadvantaged groups when awarded a TEF rating.

Freedom of Information

All public institutions, plus some established private providers, will remain subject to the FoI Act.

Further Education (FE)

The proposal for easier degree awarding powers could mean that FE providers find themselves with new opportunities to expand, develop and have autonomy over their HE provision.

Student protections

All “approved” Higher Education providers will be required to publish a student protection plan.

Quality assessment

HEFCEs new risk-based quality system will continue in the Office for Students (OfS). The government are to consult on which sector-owned body is best placed to deliver quality assessment.

Student transfers

Students could be allowed to move freely between institutions during their study through a credit transfer system.

Sharia compliant loans

Plans are still being pushed ahead by the government.

What happens next?

NUS will be holding workshops for unions on understanding the white paper and the next steps for unions on the following dates:

  • York Students’ Union, Tuesday 31 May 2016
  • NUS London offices, Tuesday 7 June 2016

Workshops will run from 12 noon – 3.00pm.

NUS' full initial summary of the HE white paper is available here.