Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence



Memorandum submitted by the Educational Publishers Council of The Publishers Association


  1.  The Educational Publishers Council is a Division of The Publishers Association which represents the collective interests of mainstream school publishers. Its members publish a very high proportion of the printed learning materials used in UK schools and are increasingly also making such materials available in electronic form.

  2.  The Council has been anxious to give every support to the Government's plans for development of the use of new technologies to assist the delivery of the curriculum in schools, in particular through the National Grid for Learning, and has worked on research, reports and proposals as to mechanisms through which this may be achieved.

  3.  The Council also thoroughly endorses the Government's view that the UK should seek to build a viable, commercially based educational software industry. Such a development is dependent on a proper pricing structure and return on investment.

  4.  If electronic learning materials for schools in the UK are generally subsidised by Government and made available free at the point of delivery, this will militate against commercial involvement. Particularly strong concern has been voiced within the industry about the BBC's plans to produce a digital curriculum, funded by licence monies, which schools receive free of charge.

  5.  The Council has already made these concerns clear to several Ministers, senior civil servants, Members of Parliament and to relevant Select Committees. In the case of the Select Committee for Culture, Media and Sport, we were advised to make representations in the context of its inquiry into the Communications White Paper which we now do.

  6.  Since the first announcement was made by the BBC, there have been indications that previously planned investment in electronic learning materials will not be forthcoming for commercial companies if the BBC's plans proceed in their present form. The companies cannot see a return on investment from materials for which they will have to charge, if, elsewhere, free materials are being provided, subsidised by public funds.

  7.  The proposals as they stand from the BBC would appear to contravene instructions that access to public funds should not be used to compete unfairly against commercial companies.

  8.  It is also likely that the BBC's free digital curriculum will have an unhealthy effect on education and the learning environment generally and result in less choice and plurality for teachers and schools in the range of resources that they can use in the classroom. A rich variety has been provided in the past and this has both enhanced the situation in the UK and fuelled international business.

  9.  Progress in the development of learning materials for schools can best be maintained by direct Government funding to schools for this purpose rather than the subsidisation of free materials.

  10.  The views of the Educational Publishers Council/Publishers Association on this issue are supported by a range of parallel trade organisations, including the British Internet Publishers Alliance which will give oral evidence to the Select Committee.

January 2001

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