Select Committee on Education and Employment Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum from the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals (HE 41)


    —  CVCP will take the lead in rigorous debate with a range of stakeholders & with Government on future funding options. Our guiding principles will be the need adequately to resource the sector, to balance the contributions of the various stakeholders, to ensure access for all who could benefit from HE, and to enable UK universities to compete successfully in international markets.

    —  Universities have a strong record of public accountability across the full range of their activities. The nature and extent of accountability arrangements need further scrutiny to avoid unnecessary burdens on universities. CVCP is involved in a HEFCE project examining these arrangements and the scope for rationalisation.

    —  The UK leads the world in systems for assuring quality and standards in teaching and learning. As partners in the Quality Assurance Agency we are committed to developing even more robust, streamlined mechanisms, which are fully cost effective and minimise the additional burdens on institutions. There is high quality across the sector with the evidence so far showing that the vast majority of provision is serving students well.

    —  Universities strongly support the Government's pledge to increase participation of 18 year olds in higher education (by the time they are 30) to 50 per cent by the end of this decade and are developing strategies to achieve this. They welcome the recognition of the contribution that part time provision has to play in achieving this target.

    —  The planned 1% cut in unit funding for 2001-02 should be rescinded and funding per student held at the 2000-01 level in real terms over the spending review period. Future expansion should be funded at this resource level.

    —  Substantial new investment in the teaching infrastructure is needed if quality is to be protected, access and lifelong learning goals realised, and the UK's international market position maintained.

    —  On access, the introduction of new funding levers is welcome but more needs to be done to identify and fund the additional costs of widening access for students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

    —  Universities will play a central role in developing the proposed new foundation degrees. The emphasis on vocational relevance with academic rigour, flexible modes of study, and HE/FE collaboration is welcome. We identify issues for further clarification and elaboration during the consultation period; these include ensuring that they are properly integrated with established part time programmes with a vocational emphasis.

    —  We expect the new Institute for Learning and Teaching to transform learning and teaching practice in HE. Critical to its success is the proportion of teaching staff achieving membership.

    —  We strongly favour the dual support system for research backed by rigorous research assessment. The present level of research selectivity is broadly acceptable. Funding should follow excellence wherever it is found.

    —  The evolution of the research assessment exercise should take account of the full range of research, including applied research, without losing the focus needed to sustain research excellence. An extension of HEROBAC would provide additional scope for universities with close links to industry and the community.

    —  The need for more equitable treatment of part time and full time students so that their access to public subsidies is equalised.

    —  The impact of student support changes in Scotland on cross border flows and student choice needs to be carefully monitored. The fourth year fee anomaly should be resolved.


  1.  We welcome this timely opportunity to submit evidence to the Education Select Committee Inquiry into Higher Education. Our backdrop is the policy framework set out by the Secretary of State for Education and Employment, David Blunkett, in his 15 February speech at the University of Greenwich. He stated what the Government saw as the critical challenges for universities, namely the need to strengthen and develop diversity with excellence in order to respond to future global challenges, without fracturing the higher education sector. He proposed an ambitious programme in the medium term for all universities in respect of teaching, research and work with industry (a "third mission" for universities). We are committed to taking a leading role in this programme, especially initiatives on the e-university and foundation degrees.

  2.  Crucially, the Secretary of State acknowledged that all parties need to consider how to resource the sector adequately beyond 2001-02 given the challenges facing higher education. We welcome the invitation to debate the likely impact of differential fees as part of this. We will take the lead in rigorous debate with Government on future funding options. Our guiding principles will be the need adequately to resource the sector, to balance the contributions of the various stakeholders, to ensure access for all who could benefit from HE, and to enable UK universities to compete successfully in international markets.

How is "quality" in teaching and learning defined?

  3.  Universities have a strong record of public accountability across the full range of their activities. The nature and extent of the accountability arrangements need further scrutiny to avoid placing unnecessary burdens on universities. CVCP is involved in the HEFCE project examining these issues.

  4.  Higher Education in the UK has arguably the strongest system in the world of assurance of standards and quality in teaching and learning, both externally and within institutions. Teaching is embedded in a culture of research or professional expertise which provide firm referents for the aims and content of taught programmes at undergraduate and postgraduate levels, and programmes leading to research degrees.

Quality may be viewed as:

    (a)  The appropriateness of the programmes available to individual students to meet their aims and aspirations for progression from their degree or other qualification to obtaining suitable employment ("fitness for purpose")

    (b)  The appropriateness of the programmes provided and the assessment standards applied to the resulting qualification and its naming as a degree of a particular kind (ordinary, honours, postgraduate)

    (c)  The appropriateness of the manner of delivery and student support to enabling students to gain the qualifications at which they are aiming and of the admissions arrangements for ensuring that they have a good chance of success.

  5.  Quality in the widest sense embraces both the relation of a particular qualification to other qualifications, most importantly those at degree level; and the effectiveness with which programmes are delivered. In the jargon of quality assurance in Higher Education, these features have been distinguished as (academic) "standards" and (process) "quality" respectively. Standards are addressed through programme approval procedures and by the external examining function. Quality is addressed through programme review and monitoring. Measures of quality have to take account both of the diversity of programme and programme aims, including intended progression to further study or employment, and of the performance of the institution in providing learning opportunities for students and in supporting them through programmes. Completion rates, which are high by international standards, suggest that institutions are generally performing well in these respects.

How is teaching quality measured and assured?

  6.  The primary responsibility for standards and for quality lies with the individual institution, exercising its powers under statute or charter to award degrees. Institutions with degree awarding powers are large, mature bodies with a spread of disciplines and highly developed internal systems to ensure that they operate effectively.

  7.  It is helpful to draw parallels with procedures used by industry and commerce for the assurance of quality and standards. Total Quality Management takes a systems approach and assumes customer orientation in the supplier; and in complex or technical matters, quality assurance makes reference to minimum benchmarks established through British Standards and expert peer review of the systems in place to maintain standards. Students undertaking higher education programmes are making an investment which is large whether assessed by the time and effort involved, the income potentially foregone or the direct costs to themselves or the State.

  8.  A key measure of quality is the satisfaction of customers. This "market test" will be reflected in the employability performance indicators which the Secretary of State has required, and which are being developed by the Higher Education Funding Council for England in co-operation with the sector. A number of institutions are currently experimenting with the methods used by the European Foundation for Quality Management, which have been deployed with considerable success widely across the public sector. This approach aims to support continuous improvement by reviewing strategic planning, performance improvement and culture change with a particular emphasis on customer satisfaction.

  9.  The role of external assurance in Higher Education is primarily to ensure that institutions' internal procedures are working effectively and that appropriate measures are being taken to correct deficiencies or to track developments in educational or professional practice or in scholarship and research. The external approach to measuring and assuring teaching quality has evolved significantly over the past decade and is still developing. This is considered in more detail below.


  10.  Before 1992, the former Council for National Academic Awards, which drew in expert staff from the universities which already had their own degree awarding powers, oversaw awards in institutions which then lacked their own powers. The CNAA was charged with ensuring that its degrees were comparable with those awarded in the (then) university sector. The latter relied on the external examiner system, and its own comparatively small size, to ensure the coherence of the sector and the equivalence of the (by today's standards) narrow range of degrees which were offered. As this sector expanded, CVCP carried out firstly a review of academic standards under Professor Reynolds (1983 to 1986), and a further review of the adoption of the Reynolds Committee's recommendations in each of the years 1987, 1988 and 1989. This work also included the production of an influential Code of Practice on External Examining. Finally CVCP established an Academic Audit Unit (AAU) in 1990 to carry out reviews in institutions.

  11.  Following the legislation that unified the HE sector in 1992, the Higher Education Quality Council was established. It absorbed the AAU. The HEQC was responsible for institutional audit, an approach that uses senior academic peers reviews and reports publicly on institutions' systems for managing and ensuring standards and quality. The use of "audit trails" ensures that selected issues are followed through in depth. Trails identify how well issues needing action are picked up through internal mechanisms and how well effective corrective action is taken as a result. HEQC extended the audit approach to overseas provision. It completed a first round audit of all HEIs in the UK and executed a valuable series of investigations into issues that led to significant enhancement in institutions. This included notably the Graduate Standards Programme, which laid the foundations for work now being carried out by the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) for Higher Education (see below paragraph 14). It is generally recognised that this programme identified accurately the forward agenda made necessary by the expansion and increase in diversity of the HE sector since the late 1980's.

  12.  The audit approach has continued into the present under the aegis of the Quality Assurance Agency. It is now known as "Institutional Review".


  13.  The Further and Higher Education Acts (1992) required the higher education funding councils to ensure that provision was made for the assessment of the quality of the education provided with the assistance of their funds. The funding councils elected to establish their own teams to carry out this task and their approaches, which differed in detail, came to be known as teaching quality assessment. This reviewed all provision under a limited number of subject groupings. The first cycle of assessments has been completed in Scotland and Wales and will be completed in England by 2002. Although the precise format of reporting has varied as experience has been gained, the main finding has been that the vast majority of provision is serving students well. There is comparatively little that has been found to be in need of significant improvement.


  14.  The National Committee of Inquiry into Higher Education, chaired by Lord Dearing, noted the work of the HEQC on graduate standards. It made a series of recommendations aimed at further clarifying for all stakeholders in higher education the precise nature, aims and levels of programmes of study on offer and of student attainment in them. The Committee suggested that this could best be achieved by extending and standardising the contextual information available to students to enable them to make more critical use of the detailed information which institutions themselves provide. QAA is taking forward this work on behalf of the sector. QAA has an UK-wide remit, reflecting the UK-wide importance of standards and quality work.


  15.  The Quality Assurance Agency was established by the bodies representing the heads of higher education institutions, in co-operation with the funding councils, with the aim of ensuring that the best possible information was made available to stakeholders (students, employers, the funding bodies and Government) in the higher education system. With the support of the sector, QAA is developing systems to describe the content of programmes of study on offer to, or undertaken by, individual students. QAA also aims to integrate with its reports on the quality of broad areas of academic provision information about academic standards. This will be based on review against a system of benchmarking statements, developed by leading subject practitioners from the HE sector, and by experts in the provision of multidisciplinary and modular programmes.

  16.  The outcome of intensive design and development work by QAA since 1998 should be an integrated and more efficient system of external assurance about the standards and quality of all institutional provision and the security of the exercise by degree-awarding bodies of their powers, both at home and overseas. The magnitude and urgency of the task which QAA is executing in designing its new framework and review method must not be underestimated. Institutions have found the predecessor systems unwieldy and very time-consuming to service, and consider that they have derived comparatively minor benefit from them, at significant cost in lost time for teaching and research.

  17.  Review has now shown that there are no systematic differences of quality between institutions or among subjects. Institutions are therefore looking for significant improvements in the efficiency of the review process both for the QAA and for their own internal servicing of reviews. A more streamlined process, drawing on robust internal institutional systems, and with an emphasis on quality improvement, would also enable QAA to address operational issues of concern to the sector. These include the mix of reviewers by gender, social class, ethnicity and professional expertise, and the quality of reviewers themselves, which has been perceived to be under stress, arising from QAA's need to recruit excessive numbers to support their current approaches. In particular, there are insufficient reviewers drawn from the professions at a time when the relevance of curricula to the professions and employability is of increasing importance. This makes the assessment of fitness for purpose difficult in programmes that set out to meet the needs of employers.

Quality of teaching and the impact of continuing increase in participation in higher education

  18.  On 28 September 1999 in his speech to the Labour party conference, the Prime Minister pledged to increase the participation rate of 18 year olds (by the time they reach 30) to 50% by the end of this decade. Universities welcomed this announcement—including the recognition of the role that part-time study can play—and are developing strategies to achieve it.

  19.  In order to maintain and enhance quality it is essential that any further expansion of higher education is properly funded. CVCP acknowledges the additional investment that the Government has committed to higher education since May 1997. However, we remain concerned at the continuing cuts in funding for each student. The latest announcement of a 1% cut for 2001-02 comes on top of the well-documented cut of more than 35 per cent in unit funding over the last decade. The most recent financial forecasts published by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) reveal a worrying decline in the sector's operating position over the Spending Review 2000 (SR 2000) period and the lack of surplus income to provide for new investment.

  20.  CVCP's SR 2000 submission argued that the planned 1 per cent cut in funding per student for 2001-02 should be rescinded and funding per student held at the 2000-01 level in real terms throughout the spending review period. Future expansion should also be funded at this level of resource per student. Without this the quality of the student experience will be diluted, the diversity of UK higher education will be constrained, innovative approaches to teaching will be put in jeopardy, and the staffing structure will not be able to support a diverse high quality system.

  21.  Over and above the issue of an adequate level of resource to teach all students, the Government should recognise the additional costs to institutions of widening access to higher education from under-represented groups, especially students from low-income families. Welcome steps have already been taken to introduce new levers within the funding council's formulae funding mechanism, which begin to recognise the additional costs. We consider that more needs to be done to identify and fund these costs.

  22.  Universities also require substantial additional investment in the teaching infrastructure to safeguard standards and the quality of teaching and learning. The investment needs of £500 million in the spending review period are detailed in our SR 2000 submission. In summary new funds are needed to help extend HE to a wider population; to take advantage of advanced information technologies; to offer additional opportunities for lifelong learning; and to maintain a competitive position in international markets.

Foundation degrees

  23.  In his 15 February speech at the University of Greenwich the Secretary of State for Education and Employment announced an initiative to introduce two-year foundation degrees, mainly for those in employment, as part of the implemetation strategy for the further student expansion proposed by the Prime Minister. This announcement is broadly welcomed by the CVCP. Foundation degrees offer an opportunity for a wider range of people to attain HE qualifications and to improve their skills and employability. Universities have a breadth and depth of experience to draw upon in designing and implementing these new qualifications. Many universities have well established part-time programmes with a vocational element which, through the use of credit based curricula and assessment, provide programmes leading to HE level 2 (diploma level) qualifications. This experience could be applied productively to meet the requirements of the proposed Foundation Degrees.

  24.  CVCP has identified the following issues for further clarification and elaboration during the consultation and pilots for foundation degrees:

    (a)  If a new qualification is to be taken up by a sufficient number of students, higher education institutions will need to develop and market provision that is attractive to those not currently participating in higher education. If a substantial proportion of these are to be already in employment and willing to commence part-time higher education study, it is clear that employers will also need to be fully committed to facilitating this and to supporting foundation degrees. How will this be ensured?

    (b)  The majority of students currently undertaking HNDs wish to progress to full honours degree programmes. If those completing foundation degrees follow this pattern, how will this increased demand for honours degree study be met?

    (c)  As universities are to validate the new programmes and award the qualifications, and this normally involves determining the curriculum, delivery and assessment modes, what will be the role of the design group, which the DfEE is to establish, in this area? What will be the role of the design group, the DfEE or other bodies after the pilot stage in determining the acceptability of new foundation degrees?

    (d)  It is the CVCP's view that funding for the new programmes should be at least equivalent to current (1999-2000) levels and should recognise the additional costs of supporting new categories of student (see paragraphs 12 and 13 above). Will the Government be prepared to cover the additional costs of supporting non-traditional students and part-time distance modes of learning?

    (e)  How will the Government ensure that the title of the new qualification fits into a meaningful national qualifications framework?

    (f)  How will the existing provision of high quality programmes that meet the requirement for two-year (full-time equivalent), vocationally orientated qualifications, ie HNDs/HNCs, be consolidated and recognised?

Institute for Learning and Teaching: impact on teaching quality

  25.  The ILT was established in 1999 with significant support from the CVCP, and is a major development in the realisation of one of the Dearing Committee's main recommendations. While it is a new initiative, it builds upon and accelerates current developments, as well as commencing fresh ones. The professional accreditation of teaching in higher education will help to sustain and improve the quality of provision and students' learning experiences. The ILT will provide to members a wide range of professional development activities and resources. Much of this will be delivered online to members' desktops to assure ease of reception and use. The Institute's research, development and dissemination activities have the potential to generate, bring together and communicate a critical mass of knowledge and good practice in learning, teaching and assessment in higher education, as well as commissioning research on topics of special importance to the academic and learning support community in higher education.

  26.  Crucial to the success of the ILT is the proportion of HE teaching staff achieving membership during the first five years of the organisation's existence. Discussions within the ILT continue as to feasible targets for different categories of staff, especially given that the Institute is a professional body that does not confer a licence to practise by virtue of membership. The issue is critical because the ILT will provide the forum in which members can: (i) determine policy with regard to the criteria of professionalism and the means of accreditation, and (ii) advise upon the provision of support for its members to sustain that professionalism and to develop it. "Ownership" of the ILT and of the process of accreditation by its members is not only critical to its success as a professional body, but will also provide the foundation for accountability and the development of the profession. The ILT's requirement that members undertake continuing professional development in teaching and the facilitation of learning as a continuing practice to remain in good standing with the ILT will, in time, effect a major transformation in learning and teaching practice in higher education.

  27.  The ILT's work has synergy with the efforts of many other bodies, such as the higher education funding councils, Government departments, representative bodies, other professional associations (both discipline-specific associations and those directly involved with the improvement of learning and teaching, such as SEDA and UCoSDA) and the higher education unions. It is important that the Institute collaborates with these bodies, and the fact that it has been awarded responsibility for managing the Funding Councils' and DENI's Learning and Teaching Support Network, the Generic Learning and Teaching Centre and the HEFCE's National Teaching Fellowship Scheme are promising first steps.

Institutional arrangements

  Their contribution to the quality of the teaching and learning experience; the balance between research and teaching and the way in which funding is allocated to higher education affects the nature of teaching and research.

  28.  Universities in the UK engage in both teaching and research, to the benefit of both. University teaching is informed by cutting-edge research (and able staff are attracted to university teaching by the opportunity to undertake research) and interaction with students can help identify research questions. The balance between teaching and research varies across universities, partly in accordance with the mission of the university, partly by the scale of research funds received.

  29.  Funding for research—both public funding, from funding councils and research councils, and private funding, from industry and charities—is highly concentrated (some 25 universities account for 75 per cent of all research funding). The selective allocation of public research funding is made necessary by limited resources and by the wish to concentrate resources in accordance with quality. The dual support system of research funding—a balance of core and project funding, of retrospective and prospective assessment—is a system that has delivered acknowledged research excellence for the UK. The system has also remained accessible to new players and to the rewarding of improvement.

  30.  A consequence of the concentration of research funds is a lack in many universities of adequate support for research infrastructure, even though those universities may be strong in technology or innovation and have good records at attracting funding for near-market research or leveraging public funding (as revealed in funding council performance indicators). A substantial increase in funds to support university-business links, under the HEROBAC scheme, would help to remedy this shortfall. CVCP believes that rigorous research assessment is necessary to justify the dual support system, that the present level of selectivity is broadly acceptable, and that funding should follow excellence wherever it is to be found.

  31.  The funding of teaching necessarily operates on a different basis. While there is a clear argument for concentrating funding on excellence in research, in the case of teaching it is equality of public funding that is appropriate. Although the system does not resource all universities to carry out high quality research throughout the range of their provision, there is an entirely legitimate expectation of high quality teaching throughout. (The Transparency Review, the methodology for which is currently being piloted, will clarify the use to which research and teaching funds are put.)

  32.  It is a fundamental principle for universities that access to research informs and maintains the quality of their teaching. Familiarity with the generation of knowledge is a distinguishing feature of study at higher education level, as students acquire intellectual autonomy, i.e. the capacity for critical enquiry, self-directed learning, etc. Teaching in higher education involves motivating students and facilitating learning as much as authoritatively imparting knowledge or skills. Familiarity with the latest developments equips staff to convey the nature of critical enquiry, the excitement that accompanies the generation of knowledge.

  33.  For teaching at postgraduate level, and in the final year of first degrees that require project-based assignments leading to theses, the link with research is particularly close. This relationship is marked in those departments that provide research training. In certain subjects (particularly in science and technology), successful research training is dependent on a supportive research environment. Students benefit from access to equipment and facilities provided by research funding.

  34.  The relationship between research and teaching is complex, however, operating at a systemic or cultural level as much as at an individual level. Not every good teacher engages directly in research; nor is an excellent researcher necessarily an excellent teacher. Nevertheless, if research-informed teaching is characteristic of higher education, it is the responsibility of funders and policymakers to facilitate both direct engagement with research and, more broadly, access to the findings of research. The scale of contemporary higher education and the effects of rigorous research assessment mean that not all teachers are funded to do research. This has in turn led to the negotiation of new relationships between research and teaching, including institutional collaboration (which can allow staff to teach in one institution and undertake research in another) and a greater emphasis on scholarship to underpin teaching. The vital thing is that learning within higher education takes place in an environment of intellectual inquiry, where possible facilitated by staff who have themselves had some experience of research during their careers, whose teaching remains up to date with developments in their discipline and is founded on secure pedagogy.


  35.  The Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) has been progressively refined since its first introduction in 1986. Despite acknowledged limitations, it enjoys familiarity and wide credibility among universities. It has certainly contributed to improvements in the management of research. Nevertheless, it needs careful scrutiny and refinement: assessment can disproportionately favour one form of research output (eg scholarly publications), with the result that much valuable applied research can be excluded. It can also foster premature production, if the period between exercises is too short. It can also encourage quantity rather than quality, without an acceptable balance between sampling of work and evidence of range of departmental activity. Any mechanism is vulnerable to manipulative behaviour, but claims about the widespread 'poaching' of staff, for example, rely more on anecdote than on hard evidence. Some of the assessment panels have had insufficient representation from the professions and industry. At the same time it is hard to see how the funding councils could distribute their research funds selectively without some form of assessment.

  36.  Research activity in universities covers a broad range, not all of which fits neatly into the standard categories of research assessment, but which nevertheless makes valuable contributions to the economy and quality of life. The RAE is extremely influential, however, not only in the direct revenues that it brings, but also indirectly, in relation to income attracted from external sponsors because of RAE ratings or distributed by funding bodies in special initiatives that draw on RAE ratings. The evolution of research assessment (and the use of its ratings) needs to take into account the full range of university research, without losing the focus needed to sustain research in accordance with excellence. It is possible that extension of HEROBAC funding would provide additional scope for universities with close links to industry and the community.

  37.  The funding councils are currently carrying out reviews of their research funding and assessment policies. CVCP is taking part in these reviews, which are fundamental and far-reaching. They will be underpinned by and rest on the evidence from commissioned research projects on a number of important issues, including the relation of research, teaching and other activities in higher education. CVCP believes that the outcome of the reviews (expected in the summer of 2000) will make a major contribution to informed policy making in these areas.

  38.  In its submission to the HEFCE review, CVCP argued that research assessment should aspire to fairness (towards both established and developing centres and disciplines), to a light touch and a low distortion effect. There is a particular need to refine the process so that it is responsive to the way much research is conducted on an inter- and multidisciplinary basis. (It is noteworthy that university organisation remains largely subject-based, in order to facilitate the delivery of education and training in core disciplines a sign of a commitment to teaching structures even in research-intensive universities). Research assessment also needs to pay more attention to how effectively universities manage their human resources.

  39.  It is sometimes argued that emphasis on research assessment distorts the estimation of other activities, including teaching and work with industry and the community. This should be seen in the context, however, that across the world the generation of knowledge is an activity accorded high status, and thus may be a feature of broader funding and cultural issues than the result of research assessment alone. Nor is the way to improve teaching to undermine the commitment to research. In our view, the way to optimise a complementary approach to the generation, transmission and application of knowledge is not by abandoning or distorting research assessment mechanisms. It is preferable to develop reward systems to balance those for research. These should include the "third mission" funding streams referred to by the Secretary of State in his Greenwich speech. These facilitate improved knowledge transfer between universities and business (for which CVCP has sought additional resources in the current spending review) and opportunities for teachers to develop and update their expertise (CVCP strongly supports the ILT here). Institutional reward structures are also relevant: many universities have clarified their formal promotion criteria, making expertise in teaching or other activities an explicit criterion. This can help to counterbalance the effect of a culture within which high status is accorded to research.

Different modes of attendance

  Their affect on the quality of the teaching and learning experience (eg full-time, part-time, distance learning via ICT and other forms of flexible learning, including credit-based systems).

  40.  Part-time programmes linked to a credit based funding system have been effective at widening participation and delivering lifelong learning. Part-time provision requires services to be delivered outside the traditional full-time pattern of teaching, particularly during evenings and at weekends. Part-time students have, until recently, received much less financial support than full-time students, and so this mode has demanded greater commitment. These programmes are not cheap to deliver and HEFCE funding mechanisms are not sufficiently sensitive to the cost of part-time provision, particularly at post-graduate level. Part-time demand is higher in larger centres of population. Traditionally it has been aimed at mature students, often in employment, but recent changes to full-time student support now makes this more attractive to the younger age group. However, part time study takes longer to achieve a degree qualification, employers and graduate recruiters should recognise the accomplishments of such students and the significant commitment they have made. Part-time students will, almost certainly, have a better understanding of the demands of employment than full-time students.

  41.  The recent decline in the number of mature students entering higher education has most affected demand for non-vocational subjects in some but not all institutions. Many full-time students now have part-time, term time jobs and their employment may in some instances affect their academic work. Institutions have to respond by recognising the reality of this situation and adjusting their methods of delivery and expectations accordingly.

  42.  Virtually all universities are closely involved with their local communities, partly through professional training that brings even the most traditional institution into direct contact with some local professions. Some universities have specific links with their communities through, for example, widening participation projects, regeneration activities and small business training. All universities contribute to their local economies through employment and by using local suppliers and traders. Students equally contribute in this way. For example, it is estimated that London's universities contribute over £4 billion to the City's economy.

  43.  The effects of introducing distance learning via ICT have not been investigated sufficiently. Innovative projects have been undertaken, programmes of work have been established, and new types of courses are being developed. Some individual initiatives have been evaluated, but it is difficult to draw conclusions about the cost effectiveness of particular techniques or forms of course delivery. The effectiveness of a specific technology will depend on a range of factors relating to the particular setting, including the nature of the target learners, the aims and objectives of the provision, the curriculum, technical issues, the administrative structure and the level of available resources.

  44.  Nevertheless, there is evidence to suggest that a greater flexibility and choice in modes of study and attendance can support initiatives to improve the quality of teaching and learning, widen participation and provide opportunities for lifelong learning. Credit-based curricula have systematised modular provision within institutions and provided evidence of comparability of qualifications for employment and further study. A full credit accumulation and transfer system, adopted throughout the HE sector, would enable learners to move between full-time and part-time study and between educational institutions, according to the pattern of their lives. Work-based learning allows full-time students to gain employment-related experience, but also enables employees studying part-time to evaluate their workplace and work experience as a focus of study and to apply their newly acquired knowledge in their workplace, to the benefit of themselves and their employers. Distance learning can benefit learners tied to a particular geographical locality by family or work commitments, or due to lack of funds.

  45.  A UK-wide higher education credit accumulation and transfer system would be an important component underpinning strategies geared towards the development of lifelong learning opportunities and more flexible and accessible routes into higher education. Universities continue to build on the lessons provided by existing credit schemes at regional and national levels, to ensure that strong links exist between further and higher education and that the various national, European and international qualifications available to students are recognised and accommodated.

  46.  The QAA is now working towards the establishment of a qualifications framework for England by October 2000. In addition, the DfEE has funded the Inter Consortia Credit Agreement (InCCA) project which aims to promote collaboration between regional and national HE consortia in the UK towards the development and acceptance of credit guidelines able to encompass all forms of learning at higher levels. This work has highlighted that not all HEIs have formal credit systems and that some would be currently unwilling to introduce them.

  47.  CVCP policy to date, as set out in our submission to Dearing and our response to Choosing to Change, has been as follows:

    (a)  Strong support for lifelong learning and a higher education qualifications framework;

    (b)  Recognition that a UK-wide HE credit accumulation and transfer system will be an important step in clarifying and simplifying routes for learners;

    (c)  Adjustments to the funding method should be contingent on first establishing a credit framework;

    (d)  Smooth connections between FE and HE and recognition of other qualifications are vital;

    (e)  Concern that within a credit framework issues of equivalence and level need to be addressed, particularly where a student seeks to transfer to another institution;

    (f)  Support for a more equitable distribution of funding across full-time and part-time provision to help to break down barriers between modes of study;

    (g)  Support for the principle of adjusting funding mechanisms for teaching to make them sensitive to a credit-based approach to learning, with care taken to ensure that this does not lead to mechanistic reductions in the unit of resource;

    (h)  The need to recognise the non-teaching elements (infrastructure, buildings, maintenance, administration etc) which are not currently reflected in part-time funding;

    (i)  Careful consideration of the distributive effects of any new funding methodology to ensure that it did not result in institutional instability or place further restrictions on longer term planning, and of respect for diversity and institutional mission;

Student support

  48.  We strongly support the principle that students should make a financial contribution to the cost of their study on the grounds that graduates are a major beneficiary of higher education. The income from these contributions provides a vital new income stream for universities. Our support for the current system of student support has always been based on two principles. First that the impact of any funding changes on access to HE should be closely monitored. Second, that students should have sufficient funds to live on whilst they study, with loans repaid on an income contingent basis by graduates once their earnings reach an acceptable threshold. We welcome the recent Government announcements on targeting funds on the most vulnerable students via bursaries for mature students and those from low-income families. However, whilst Government initiatives to target funding on part-time students are welcome, there is still a need to achieve more equitable financial treatment of part-time and full-time students so that access to public subsidies is equalised.

  49.  We broadly welcome the Scottish Executive's announcement on student support in Scotland but would be concerned if the additional anomalies that this creates had an adverse impact on cross border flows and hence students choice. This needs to be carefully monitored. We also call on the Government to find the £1.9 million needed to rectify the fee anomaly whereby Scottish and EU students (but not English, Welsh and Northern Irish students) on four years honours degree courses at Scottish universities are exempt from paying a fee in the fourth year where the equivalent course elsewhere in the UK would be completed in three years.

  50.  We welcome the DfEE review of the administration of student support in England and Wales post 2000. This is an opportunity to streamline arrangements and ensure a high quality, responsive service for students. We favour an approach that builds on that of the Scottish Student Awards Agency whose strong performance relative to that of some LEAs has been noticeable. The funding needed to bring about changes should be found during the spending review period. This should include recognition of the full cost to universities of administering Access Funds and Hardship Funds.


February 2000

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