Higher education policy in England: missed opportunities, unintended consequences and unfinished business.
Journal of Access Policy and Practice, 5(2),
Current higher education policy in England is characterised by some enduring dilemmas and challenges that the New Labour government has so far largely failed to resolve in its unprecedented three terms in office. How to pay for a mass system that is approaching 50% participation by young people, how to achieve greater equity of access to that system and how to transform higher education to meet new social and economic needs are the principal long-term challenges among others that remain unfinished business. This article examines policymaking on expansion, diversity, funding, research and teaching during this period. It argues that the policymaking process in England, and the trajectory this has taken since 1997, may be as significant as the policies themselves in limiting future options. It identifies four characteristics of the current policymaking process and their implications for the future direction of HE policy in England: increasing centralisation, the co-option of sector initiatives for government purposes, the tensions between short-term initiatives and longer-term approaches and the predominance of ideology over research as a basis for policy. Instead, it concludes, we should be developing a mode of policymaking that is iterative, research-informed, cooperative (rather than merely ‘consultative’), strategic and that produces a long-term framework for enabling change.
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