University changes announced after criticisms over 'Mickey Mouse' courses


The Government is announcing new measures to improve teaching in universities following criticism many students are paying tens of thousands of pounds for "Mickey Mouse" courses and little contact time with lecturers.

Plans to make universities publish information about the amount of time students spend in classes and lectures, the jobs they get as graduates, and their average earnings, are being announced in the White Paper on Monday.

Institutions that score highly in teaching will be able to raise the £9,000 annual tuition fees in line with inflation - sparking warnings that students face the prospect of being saddled with more debt.

Plans to open up the higher education sector to greater competition by allowing new "challenger institutions" to award degrees if they meet national standards are also being announced.

Ministers say the reforms could allow employers like Facebook or Google to open their own universities, and are aimed at tackling the skills shortfall in some sectors.

A new Office for Students will also be created, while universities will be forced to publish detailed information about the ethnic, gender and socio-economic background of their students, and how they progress.

Universities and science minister Jo Johnson said: "Our universities are engines of economic growth and social mobility, but if we are to remain competitive and ensure that a high-quality education remains open to all, we cannot stand still.

"Making it easier for high-quality challenger institutions to start offering their own degrees will help drive up teaching quality, boost the economy and extend aspiration and life chances for students from all backgrounds."

The Government said the reforms contained in the White Paper, entitled Success As A Knowledge Economy, will ensure students "get better value for money" and put teaching "on a par with" England's world-leading research sector.

Universities gave a cautious welcome to the plans, although they stressed they are waiting to see the precise details which will be published on Monday.

But Sorana Vieru, National Unions of Students (NUS) vice president for higher education, said students will "understandably be outraged" at plans to increase fees.

And she warned the Government faces "serious questions" about its policy of allowing new institutions to award degrees, warning that students risked being "ripped off" unless strict standards are maintained.

She told the Press Association: "We have a lot of these new providers popping up - the sector is literally mushrooming right now.

"But they are not established and might not have the proper support in place for students.

"My concern is that these institutions could be short lived and that students who have been promised the opportunity of getting a degree could end up in institutions that end up folding because they are a business enterprise - an experiment."

English graduates are more in debt than their American, Canadian, Australian or New Zealand counterparts, according to a report published last month by The Sutton Trust.

Dame Julia Goodfellow, president of Universities UK, which speaks for universities across the country, said: "We support the Government's aim to protect the interests of students, increase fairness and demonstrate the value of a university education.

"The university sector is an international success story in terms of the quality of teaching and research. It is important that any reforms recognise this and build on that strength.

"Established universities are not standing still and are always seeking to improve what they offer to students."

Dr Wendy Piatt, director general of the Russell Group, which represents the UK's top universities, said: "We share the Government's desire to strengthen the UK's world-class higher education system.

"Russell Group universities deliver outstanding research hand in hand with excellent teaching - this is central to the student experience they provide.

"A huge amount of time, effort and resources have been devoted to improving the education and student experience at our universities."

She said the "institutional autonomy, diversity and competitiveness" must be protected and stressed that England's universities "punch well above our weight" in research and the Government should think carefully before changing the research system.

Under the plans, seven research councils will be brought together to form the single UK Research & Innovation body.