Select Committee on Education and Employment Minutes of Evidence


  Further to the evidence that I gave to the Education Sub-committee last Wednesday, I have enclosed a short note that I think provides a framework for the discussion that we had at the meeting. It also helps clarify the answer that I gave to Mr Sheerman about returning to the old system of student maintenance. As the latter provided a very clear financial safety net, it represented a policy that had a direct impact on what has emerged as one of the two key factors in drop-out: the student debt problem. If the aim of policy is to increase retention rates, then—as the note argues—you need in principle to address both that problem and the other main issue in retention: effective student support and guidance to minimise academic failure. These are the two resource issues that I set out in the last paragraph of the note—call them RD and RS respectively. The overall policy dilemma is to find the right mix of RD and RS. There is obviously a wide range of mixes, all the way from RD alone through to RS alone. Sir Michael Bett and David Packham had placed considerable emphasis on RS. The point that I was trying to make was that, while I believe that RS is the more important, we must not forget RD. I actually believe that what we need is a balance between the two. The real task for policy makers will be to design and implement an effective mechanism to deliver this.

  I hope that you may be able to pass on the content of this letter and a copy of my note to the members of the Sub-committee. I should also like to take this opportunity to thank them formally for their courtesy in inviting me to meet them.

27 January 2001

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