Higher Education: A New Framework (1991)

This was the second of two education White Papers published by John Major's government in May 1991.

The first, Education and Training for the 21st century (CM 1536), dealt with further education.

This one (CM 1541) dealt with higher education.

Higher Education: A New Framework

Higher Education: A New Framework was prepared for the web by Derek Gillard and uploaded on 5 June 2019.

White Paper: Higher Education: A New Framework (1991)

London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office 1991
Crown copyright material is reproduced with the permission of the Controller of HMSO and the Queen's Printer for Scotland.


In his Foreword to the White Paper, Prime Minister John Major wrote:

In higher education, our key reform will be to end the increasingly artificial distinction between universities on the one hand and polytechnics and colleges on the other. This will build on our plans to transform education and training for 16-19 year olds by removing the barriers between the academic and vocational streams (page 4).
The White Paper announced 'changes in the five main areas which currently seal the binary line in place', namely:
  • funding for teaching;
  • funding for research;
  • degree awarding powers and quality assurance;
  • institutional titles and governance; and
  • pay and conditions (page 7).
The government believed that
it is in the interests of universities, polytechnics and colleges to continue to look for increased levels of funding from private sources in particular from industry and commerce, from benefactors and alumni, and from present sources of fee income. Such private income can enhance considerably the independence of individual institutions. The Government accepts that public funds will remain the main source of income for funding the projected expansion of student numbers (page 10).
The existing 'separate channels' for the funding of teaching in universities on the one hand and polytechnics and colleges on the other would hinder efficient further expansion of higher education provision. The government therefore proposed to introduce 'a single funding structure for teaching in universities, polytechnics and colleges' (page 14).

With regard to the funding of research, the White Paper set out the following principles:

  • Plurality: there should be two channels of public research:
    • general funds, to be used at institutions' discretion; and
    • funds tied to specific projects.
  • Competition: to promote further the most effective use of resources within higher education, all institutions should be able to compete for research funds.
  • Selectivity: research funds should be distributed selectively, as now, on the basis of assessment of research quality. This will continue to reward quality, encourage innovation and make the best use of resources.
  • Accountability: the principle of accountability must apply to higher education institutions receiving general research funding, in the same way as for other bodies receiving substantial public funds. The Government is determined to ensure greater transparency in the planning and use of general research funds, as well as clearer funding arrangements for Research Council projects (pages 18-19).
A new framework for higher education was needed because 'The binary line underpins the current territorial responsibilities within Government for funding higher education'. Its abolition therefore required 'a fresh settlement of those responsibilities' (page21).

Arguments for 'complete coherence' pointed in favour of 'one single Funding Council operating across Great Britain or the United Kingdom as a whole' (page21). However, the government intended to introduce separate Funding Councils for higher education in England, Scotland and Wales.

To ensure fair competition across territorial boundaries, the funding allocations by each territorial Secretary of State to the relevant body will be informed by the Government's general policy on higher education. Subject to that, funding will take account of each particular set of territorial circumstances, such as the different structure and duration of degree courses in Scotland (page 22)
The Open University would, for funding purposes, be 'brought within the ambit of the new Funding Council for England' but would 'retain its general UK mission' (page 23).

With regard to the quality of teaching and learning, there was a need for 'proper accountability for the substantial public funds invested in higher education'. Students and employers needed 'improved information about quality' if the full benefit of 'increased competition' was to be obtained (page 24). The White Paper listed the following There are various 'aspects of quality assurance in higher education':

  • Quality control: mechanisms within institutions for maintaining and enhancing the quality of their provision.
  • Quality audit: external scrutiny aimed at providing guarantees that institutions have suitable quality control mechanisms in place.
  • Validation: approval of courses by a validating body for the award of its degrees and other qualifications.
  • Accreditation: in the specific context of the Council for National Academic Awards (CNAA), delegation to institutions, subject to certain conditions, of responsibility for validating their own courses leading to CNAA degrees.
  • Quality assessment: external review of, and judgements about, the quality of teaching and learning in institutions (page 24).
In a chapter on Institutional titles and governance, the White Paper proposed 'allowing polytechnics, if they wish, to adopt a university name or to include it in their titles'. Any such name changes 'would require approval by the Privy Council to ensure consistency in approach and no duplication' (page 32).

Finally, with regard to pay and conditions of service, employers in higher education would be expected 'to settle their own negotiating arrangements' in the light of the proposals in the White Paper. The government would 'continue to influence pay and conditions of service through the level of funding provided for the new Higher Education Funding Councils' (page 35).

The White Paper's proposals, and those of Education and Training for the 21st century, formed the basis of the 1992 Further and Higher Education Act (6 March), which:

  • established the Further Education Funding Councils (FEFCs) (Section 1);
  • removed further education and sixth form colleges from LEA control (11);
  • unified the funding of higher education under the Higher Education Funding Councils (HEFCs) (62); and
  • abolished the Council for National Academic Awards (CNAA) (80).