Written evidence from GuildHE[1] (EDE 16)


Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee

The Evolution of Devolution: English Devolution



We respond to this consultation on behalf of our member universities, university colleges and higher education providers, as an officially recognised representative body for UK Higher Education.

Devolution has already fundamentally changed the higher education landscape in the UK. There is now significant divergence between the nations in regard to virtually all major policy issues and funding arrangements. This applies both to teaching and learning and to research.

In the case of education, it is important to note that some this divergence predates the establishment of the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in the late 1990s. For example, Scottish students study Highers which differ from A Levels studied in the rest of the United Kingdom and Sixth Form Colleges exist only in England. The higher education sector is well adjusted to these differences, partly because they are so well established. In any discussion about further devolution of education or research and development policy, higher education institutions are of immense importance.


Educational coldspots 

1)     Higher education providers are often the largest employers in their locality and make huge contributions to local and regional economies. Smaller and specialist universities have a major role in local communities across the UK by providing skills, talent, business innovation and support.

2)     We are the part of the higher education sector particularly dedicated to and good at placemaking. Many of our members have supported their communities for over a century. They are disproportionately located in smaller towns, in rural or coastal locations or on the edge of cities.

3)     There is some concern about the asymmetric nature of devolution in England. While we do not have a view as to where regional boundaries should be drawn for new areas seeking a devolution settlement, we would like to highlight the danger of a process that leads to areas, for example in rural or coastal ones, that fall through the cracks and be outliers in not having regional representation. These are often the areas where there is already the most educational disadvantage. A great number of GuildHE institutions are not in ‘city regions,’ for example. It is important that these areas are not deprioritised by omission.


University admissions

4)     The higher education sector is accustomed to the differences in practise in relation to exams across the United Kingdom, representing differing traditions across the country. Additional, small divergences between different regions in England could potentially be problematic, however, if a perception is allowed to emerge that results from different parts of the country (for the same qualification) are not comparable.

5)     Therefore, we would suggest that there continue to be national standards set out for Level Four qualifications to assist in the maintenance of the integrity of the admissions system, in England.

6)     This was raised by UCAS as a possible concern even with the present system, in the context of different approaches to exam cancellations taken by the devolved administrations during the COVID-19 crisis.[2]


FE and HE partnerships

7)     There has been much discussion relating to the devolution of the adult skills budget and various policy levers relating primarily to FE colleges. It is crucial to be aware that a great many universities are responsible for a substantial amount of FE provision. This growing indistinction between the sectors must be kept in mind if the government wishes to further devolve matters relating to tertiary education in England.

8)     For example, Hartpury University has a total of 3,500 students, with around 1,800 studying HE courses and the remainder in further education.[3]

9)     Equally, there has been a substantial expansion of higher education in colleges and this is expected to play an important role in the government’s post-18 funding review. [4]


Research and innovation

10) Research and innovation play important social, cultural and economic roles throughout the UK. However, national funding could be devolved to deliver stronger benefits to people and places.

11) We support the recommendations found in the 2020 Nesta report, The Missing £4 Billion[5]. The evidence in this report is pertinent to the devolution debate because it suggests how research and development funding can be used to support all parts of the UK.

12) We therefore believe that there is merit in devolving some research and knowledge exchange funding.

13) For example, the government should introduce the UK Shared Prosperity Fund, ensuring it at least equals the amount of money received through previous EU structural development funding by investing in capacity and capability throughout all sectors of the economy and all regions and nations of the UK. In doing so, the Fund should have strong local buy-in, potentially through devolution of elements of the spend.

14) This could work in parallel with other local growth and Covid-19 recovery funds, such as the Towns Fund. We reference the work of Danny Kruger MP[6] in this regard. 

15) Looking at these policies through devolution would enable universities to address causes of concern within local/regional communities. Knowledge exchange funding in particular should be part of this because it allows basic relationship development to be supported. This would in turn support the socioeconomic growth and prosperity of all parts of the UK.


November  2020


[1] GuildHE is an officially recognised representative body for UK Higher Education. Our members are universities, university colleges and other institutions, each with a distinctive mission and priorities. They work closely with industries and professions and include major providers in technical and professional subject areas such as art, design and media, music and the performing arts; agriculture, food and the natural environment; the built environment; education; law; health and sports. Many are global organisations engaged in significant partnerships and producing locally relevant and world-leading research.


[2] https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/now-is-the-time-to-reform-university-admissions-8fdvwzn9j

[3] https://www.hartpury.ac.uk/about-us/

[4] https://fetl.org.uk/publications/higher-education-in-further-education-leading-the-challenge/

[5] https://media.nesta.org.uk/documents/The_Missing_4_Billion_Making_RD_work_for_the_whole_UK_v4.pdf

[6] https://www.dannykruger.org.uk/communities-report