Review recommends changes to higher education sector agencies

Universities UK has published today the recommendations of its review looking at the higher education sector agencies.

A review group was established by Universities UK in February 2016 to consider the effectiveness and the responsibilities of the current sector agencies that support higher education institutions.

The group – chaired by Sir David Bell, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Reading – has published a final report which sets out the findings of the review and makes a number of recommendations.

The review considered the following higher education agencies:

  • Equality Challenge Unit (ECU)
  • Higher Education Academy (HEA)
  • Higher Education Careers Services Unit (HECSU)
  • Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA)
  • Jisc
  • Leadership Foundation for Higher Education (LFHE)
  • Office for the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education (OIAHE)
  • Quality Assurance Agency (QAA)
  • Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS)
  • Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA

The report includes a number of recommendations including seeing the number of core agencies taking subscriptions from institutions (particularly in England) reduced from nine to six over the next two years. Most significantly, a new body is proposed that will bring together the functions of the Equality Challenge Unit (ECU), the Higher Education Academy (HEA) and the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education (LFHE).

Recommendations from the review group report include:

  • The core functions of the Equality Challenge Unit (ECU), the Higher Education Academy (HEA) and the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education (LFHE) should be merged into a single body to create a new, more responsive agency supporting institutions in relation to equality and diversity, learning and teaching, and leadership and governance A transition group should be established to help coordinate the delivery of the proposed merged body
  • The Higher Education Careers Service Unit (HECSU), Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), Jisc and UCAS should form a strategic delivery partnership with a focus on improving the efficiency and effectiveness of data-related functions and services
  • The Higher Education Careers Services Unit (HECSU) – as a largely commercial organisation already generating around 95% of its income from commercial activity – should move towards a subscription-free funding model over the next two years
  • A forum should be established for chairs of sector agencies, with senior representation from both Universities UK and GuildHE.

Commenting on the final report, Sir David Bell, Chair of the review group and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Reading, said: “Sector agencies have been integral to the success of UK higher education, helping institutions deliver world-class teaching, learning and research.

“The sector has, however, undergone significant policy reforms and funding changes in recent years. Most of the sector agencies have been in place for many years, so it was important to ensure that they have all adapted to this new environment and that they are able to meet the needs of a dynamic and increasingly diverse sector.

“The review identified a clear need for reform. Reducing duplication and improving value for money and coordination between agencies were some of the key concerns identified by institutional leaders and other stakeholders.

“These recommendations, including the creation of a new, merged body, should help ensure that the agencies continue to succeed and support the sector well into the future. The review group is grateful to all the agencies for their cooperation and thoughtful engagement throughout the process. We look forward to working with them to implement these recommendations.”


  1. The Report of the review group on UK higher education sector agencies is available to download. For further information, please contact Universities UK’s Media Relation Manager Gareth Morgan on 020 7419 5407 or email
  2. The review group was established in February 2016. Following concerns over proposed changes to subscriptions to the HEA, the board of Universities UK called for a comprehensive review of the sector agency landscape. The 10 organisations were chosen specifically as they represent what are considered to be the core set of sector-owned agencies that provide a combination of statutory, strategic and developmental functions for higher education providers and other related stakeholders. In addition, UUK and GuildHE are sole or joint owners of each agency (with the exception of UCAS; see pages 21–22).
  3. Members of the review group are: Sir David Bell, Vice Chancellor, University of Reading (Chair); 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.
  4. Over the course of the review, the group undertook an extensive programme of engagement with stakeholders. The review group met five times between March and November 2016, and the emerging findings were considered at board level on a number of occasions by both UUK and GuildHE. Opportunities were also provided for UUK members to discuss the review at a number of Members’ Meetings over 2016. The work of the review group was supported by the Universities UK policy group. The Chief Executive of GuildHE, Gordon McKenzie, was an observer on the group.
  5. The report recommends that a transition group should be established to help coordinate the delivery of the proposed merged body set out in recommendation 1. This group will agree on the key elements and programme for the delivery of the proposed merged body, including liaison with the relevant governance bodies to secure their support. The transition group should consist of the chairs and additional nominated board representatives of ECU, HEA and LFHE, plus representation from UUK and GuildHE. A member of the present review group will chair this group.

Key Contacts

Steven Jefferies

Steven Jefferies

Head of Media
Universities UK

Eloise Phillips

Eloise Phillips

Media Officer
Universities UK

Clara Plackett

Clara Plackett

Senior Media Officer
Universities UK


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