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New working group to examine higher education sector agencies

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Universities UK has established a new working group to examine the current higher education sector agency landscape and provide advice on how the work of the agencies can continue to effectively support the sector into the future.


The last five years has seen major shifts in the funding of higher education and in the wider operating environment. Funding for teaching now comes largely through fee income, there has been deregulation of student number controls, and we have seen an increase in new providers entering the market. This has enhanced competitive forces in the sector and the need for institutions to be adaptive and responsive. The sector agencies have and continue to play a critical role in the sector, providing services to support and enhance a wide spectrum of sector activities, as well as in some cases discharging statutory responsibilities and underpinning co-regulation. They are themselves having to adapt to this challenging new environment.


The Universities UK working group will undertake a review of UK higher education sector agencies’ functions, services and infrastructure. The following are draft terms of reference for this work that will be refined at the first meeting of the working group. The group will consider:

  • Drivers for reform including the shifting policy context (for example, the proposals in the Green Paper) and institutional operating environment, and future demand for services across the sector (including future delivery of any statutory requirements).
  • How the current landscape of sector agencies needs to adapt to meet these future requirements, including advising on the most efficient and effective mechanisms and infrastructure to deliver high quality services for the sector.
  • How approaches to delivering sector services can meet increasingly diverse needs, including options for ‘unbundling’ and innovative delivery.
  • The most effective approaches to governance of sector bodies to ensure maximum accountability and transparency, and the role that should be played by sector representative bodies (notably Universities UK and Guild HE), universities, students and other stakeholders, such as employers.
  • Options for achieving operational efficiency and demonstrating value for money.
  • How any new sector agency landscape will operate within a UK context, recognising the importance of maintaining a common UK framework, albeit with variable elements within it.

The working group will develop a strong evidence base to inform its thinking and recommendations, and consult widely with Universities UK members and those with a direct interest in the sector agencies. This will include, but not be limited to, Guild HE, AoC, NUS, the sector agencies themselves, UK funding councils, professional bodies, UK government, and employers. The working group will also take input and advice from outside of the sector as appropriate, particularly where there may be lessons to draw from other sectors or internationally. 

The group will report regularly to the Universities UK Board, looking to provide a full report, including findings and recommendations, in Autumn 2016.

The review is likely to include, but not be limited to, considering the following agencies. This list will be discussed and agreed at the first working meeting*:

  • The Equality Challenge Unit (ECU)
  • The Higher Education Academy (HEA)
  • Higher Education Careers Services Unit (HECSU)
  • Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA)
  • Jisc
  • The Leadership foundation for Higher Education (LFHE)
  • The Office for the Independent Adjudicator (OIA)
  • The Quality Assurance Agency (QAA)
  • The Universities and College Employers Association (UCEA)
The work will be overseen by a sub-group of the Universities UK board including Vice-Chancellors from both Scotland and Wales and a number of Vice-Chancellors of English universities who do not currently sit on sector agency boards.


The working group will be chaired by:

  • Sir David Bell, Vice-Chancellor, University of Reading

Membership will comprise:

  • Nigel Carrington, Vice-Chancellor, University of the Arts London
  • Sir David Eastwood, Vice-Chancellor, University of Birmingham
  • Sir Pete Downes, Vice-Chancellor, University of Dundee
  • Julie Lydon OBE, Vice-Chancellor, University of South Wales
  • Quentin McKellar CBE, Vice-Chancellor, University of Hertfordshire
  • David Phoenix OBE, Vice-Chancellor, London South Bank University

The group will be supported by the Universities UK policy group. The Chief Executive of Guild HE will be invited to meetings as an observer.

*As of Wednesday 18 May 2016 UCAS was included in scope of the review.

Key Contacts

Gareth Morgan

Gareth Morgan

Media Relations Manager
Universities UK

Clara Plackett

Clara Plackett

Press and Social Media Officer
Universities UK

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