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Lessons from Leveson: Independent self-regulation – newspapers and universities compared

  • 27 June 2013

In his paper for HEPI, Three Cheers for Lord Leveson: Independent self-regulation – newspapers and universities compared, Rob Behrens argues that there is validity in comparing the experiences of regulation in the newspaper industry and higher education. Both sectors believe they require, “on public interest grounds”, professional autonomy. In the newspaper industry this is called “press freedom” and in higher education “academic judgment”.

 Rob Behrens’ report contrasts the arrangements in the two sectors:

  1. Where Leveson expressed disquiet at the Code used by the PCC having no independent guardian, the Quality Code for Higher Education is not constructed by universities but by the QAA, in consultation with regulatory partners and the higher education sector.
  2. Where Leveson criticised the PCC for its failure either to monitor compliance with the PCC code or to encourage newspapers to deal with complaints internally, the OIA uses the chapters of the Quality Code dealing with complaints and appeals as a benchmark against which to judge whether or not a university is being “reasonable in all the circumstances.”
  3. In recognising that there will be overlaps or ambiguities in regulatory roles, the Regulatory Partnership Group exists to share information, to define appropriate boundaries, as a joined-up instrument for disseminating and receiving messages about quality standards and good practice, and as a vehicle for a risk-based approach to regulation.

In his concluding comments, Rob Behrens reasserts the fundamental principles underpinning effective regulation: “The higher education sector can take confidence from the Leveson debates that – in essentials – its own complaints handling arrangements, characterised by independence and transparency, are well judged and in relatively good order. What counts is that student experience is manifestly safeguarded by an independent ombudsman scheme without undermining the sovereignty of universities in terms of the autonomy of narrow academic judgements.”

 A copy of HEPI Occasional Report 7: Three Cheers for Lord Leveson: Independent Self-regulation – newspapers and universities compared is available for download here.

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