Regulating Higher Education

Date: 24 March 2015
Venue: New Academic Building, LSE


Higher education and its regulation face great uncertainty over the coming years. The international context is characterised by growing student numbers, increasing marketisation, the emergence of so-called alternative providers and internationalising academic and student markets. In the UK, there is additional uncertainty over future funding levels, the consequences of devolution and the rise of ‘impact’. This context makes it an important aspect of debates on the theme of ‘Regulation in Crisis?’, the ESRC-funded seminar series organised by CARR.

This one-day conference, jointly organised by the Higher Education Commission and CARR, considered the future of the regulation of higher education, with a particular focus on England. Higher education has witnessed considerable change over the past few years, especially in terms of the funding model of higher education in the context of the rise in tuition fees, teaching grant allocations, and the lifting of student number controls. These accentuated competing pressures on different institutions within higher education, as well as between institutions offering higher and further education. 


A number of key themes emerged during the conference. One key theme was that the regulation of higher education was characterised by conflicting objectives and that these was reflected in uncertainty about overall regulatory objectives and approaches. A second theme was that the changing context required a new legislative framework. One goal of such legislation might be to deal with the uneven treatment of established and ‘alternative’ providers of higher education,. Another aim might be to establish an overall architecture for the various bodies that were populating the contemporary regulatory landscape. It was also noted that the UK Home Office had become an important actor in the regulation of higher education.


A third theme was that the contemporary move towards risk-based regulation needed to carefully consider what it sought to achieve. Risk-based regulation was potentially ill-suited to the university sector. Its application potentially sowed the seeds of its own destruction. Any attempt at risk-based regulation needed to consider what was being considered to be ‘at risk’, to what and to whom. It was critical that the language of risk did not get in the way of the overall objective of regulating higher education, especially as there was a tendency for debates about the technicalities of risk-based regulation to supplant the more important discussions about how to generate and sustain public confidence in the regulatory regime.

Conference programme

Conference contributions:

Discussion Paper 77 - The regulation of higher education

Individual discussion papers:

Julia Black - From higher education funding to higher education regulation: the transformation of the relationship between universities and the state 

Andrew M. Boggs - Building a new federal regulatory environment for UK higher education 

Heather Fry - The operating framework for higher education in England 

Nick Hillman - Better regulation for higher education 

Stephen Jackson - Risk-based approaches to quality assurance

Roger King - Risk-based quality assurance in higher education 

Martin Lodge - Regulating higher education: a comparative perspective 

Simeon Underwood - Reforming quality assurance in higher education: putting students at the centre



Introduction: Julia Black, Philip Norton and David Willetts MP

Risk, Regulation and Higher Education: Martin Lodge, Julia Black, Simeon Underwood, Stephen Jackson, Roger King

Policy-makers and Higher Education Regulation: Bridget Hutter, Heather Fry, Christopher Hale, Ian Kimber, Nick Hillman, Andrew Boggs

Politicians, the 2015 Election, and Higher Education: Tony Travers, Adrian Bailey MP, Baroness Sal Brinton

Conference organisers:
Roger King, Higher Education Commission
Martin Lodge, CARR, London School of Economics and Political Science