What can English higher education learn from regulation in other countries? HEFCE is thinking carefully about how we should perform our role as the lead regulator for higher education in England and what can be learned from other countries.

Alongside our work to promote debate about whether the current arrangements for quality assessment continue to be appropriate for the developing HE system, we are looking more broadly at how regulation of higher education in other countries is carried out. How do other countries deal with provider entry and exit to their systems? How do they regulate access to public funding? What are their monitoring arrangements?  How do they deal with issues with providers?

Higher education systems around the world are evolving. Changing economic and social conditions bring to the fore questions around value for money, quality and student protection. We think the time is therefore right to look at what can we learn from other systems. There may also be completely new approaches which we may wish to investigate further.

There are interesting examples of fundamental change in Chile and Australia. Until recently, the system in Chile centred on tuition fees and low levels of government intervention, but the Chilean government has recently called in a team from the World Bank to advise on how higher education is funded.

The Australian government is also considering the funding of higher education. It has proposed removing the cap on student fees from 2016 as well as changing repayment arrangements for graduates. Lively debate is now underway in the Australian parliament and there are interesting developments around the remit of the Australian Tertiary Education Quality Standards Agency (TEQSA).  A recent review of its impact and effectiveness has highlighted some challenges associated with HE regulation in the Australian system.

Clearly neither of these systems is directly comparable to English HE, but we are keen to consider what their experience may have to offer us.

Alongside our recently published study on quality assessment approaches in some comparator countries, we have started some desk-based research on how other countries regulate their higher education systems.  Sometimes we find that arrangements appear to be remarkably familiar: both India and Hong Kong, for example, have University Grants Committees, while those countries that do not have historic links with the United Kingdom, such as China, have an approach that is entirely different.

While we consider how to continue making the case for further legislation which is fit-for purpose, we will also continue to think how best we can optimise regulation within existing powers. In particular, we are taking forward work to map out how other countries deal with a range of regulatory issues, including provider entry and exit from the system, provider registration and monitoring and how issues are resolved with providers.

We hope, too, to open up dialogue with other HE regulatory bodies, particularly those where there is a flow of students to England, or where English universities are now establishing their own campuses.  Our hope is that we may be able to work together to streamline processes and provide further assurances across national boundaries, so that as providers develop transnational education provision, they are not subject to heavy burdens from multiple regulators. HEFCE’s Register of HE providers may also have a role to play in informing providers and student intermediaries in other countries.

In the coming months too we will be in contact with specialists in this field who may be able to provide valuable insights for us.

Thinking around regulation is evolving internationally as it is in England. HEFCE is making the most of this opportunity to explore other countries’ regulatory systems. What could be more important for English HE than its worldwide reputation for excellent learning, teaching and research?