DISMANTLING THE IVORY TOWER, NATFHE, JANUARY
The Prime Minister announced a target of 50
per cent of those aged 18 to 30 participating in HE within the
next century. The Office of Science and Technology Foresight Report
"Britain towards 2010" predicts this will be achieved
by as early as 2005. Current 18 to 21 APR rates are estimated
Source: HESA 1999 Management Statistics.
4.1 Sub-degree and FE provision
As the previously élite system is transformed,
definitions of expansion become less clear. The traditional participation
rate among 18 to 21 year olds is less than wholly relevant. Nonetheless
it is clear that, whatever the yardstick, the system will have
to continue expanding rapidly to achieve the Prime Minister's
50 per cent goal early in the next century. Expansion does not
of course necessarily mean in the traditional three or four year
degree. It may well be appropriate for a wide range of academic
ability to expand sub-degree provision, for example the two year
Associate Degree pioneered at Middlesex though demand for this
route is only likely to be strong if progress to a degree is open,
where academically justified. The Prime Minister said in his November
Romanes lecture at Oxford that he wished to see the majority of
the extra 100,000 HE places planned by 2002 to be at sub-degree
level and provided through further education. But delivering HE
in FE is most successful where groups are fairly small and teaching
relatively intensive, ie at HE level but delivered in an FE classroom
format. That is not a cheap option. Cut-price expansion of HE
through FE would simply be a route to high drop-out rates, low
quality and unacceptable loads placed on already grossly overburdened
staff. Of course HE can be delivered very well in FE but only
when fully funded at HE unit costs (as HEFCE direct funding now
aims to ensure) and where academic links between relevant HE and
FE institutions are well developed. NATFHE strongly supported
greater integration of FE and HE, but only at HE funded levels.
4.2 Funding access and expansion
Expansion has of course brought in more students
from non-traditional backgrounds. The New HEIs have done better
at recruiting these than the Old hence their rising share. For
example Old HEIs take 19 per cent of students from the lower social
classes (against a HEFCE benchmark expected figure of 21 per cent)
while the New take 33 per cent (benchmark 30 per cent). Again,
for low participation neighbourhoods, Old HEIs have 8.8 per cent
(benchmark 105 per cent) against 14.3 per cent (benchmark 14.7
per cent) for the New. HEFCE has introduced a £30 million
fund to encourage Access to HE for non-traditional students and
those from low participation postcode areas attract a five per
But those monetary incentives are a very small
proportion of the total £3 billion teaching grant.
To achieve OST forecast of 50 per cent by 2005
would require an annual average increase in student intake for
the UK as a whole of at least 7 per cent or 20,000 FTE students
(depending on level, mode and duration of course etc) each year
for the next five years. Much greater incentives to recognise
the true costs of teaching disadvantaged students (described above)
will be needed. The overall unit of funding per student must be
maintained at the very least at current levels (ie the planned
1 per cent real terms cut in 2001-02 rescinded). This would require
£88 million additional teaching funding grant each year (£4,400
times 20,000). Over the span of the 2002-03 to 2004-05 Comprehensive
Spending Review that would mean an additional £528 million.
In percentage terms, assuming inflation remains around 2.5 per
cent (Treasury current estimates of medium term GDP deflator),
this would mean increases of 9.5 per cent per year in HE teaching
funding were required. Of course freezing the unit of resource
at 2000 levels would do nothing to redress the years of cumulative
cuts up to 2000 with all the damage and waste they have inflicted
on the system.
4.3 Cutting drop-out rates
One obvious form of waste is high drop-out rates.
Of course, it must immediately be acknowledged that failure to
achieve a desired qualification in the time planned is not a complete
waste of whatever learning was achieved. Some students do go back
years later to finish. Others will gain a few months participation
even if they gain no qualification. For still others it will be
valuable to learn that HE is not for them. But all of those caveats
are qualified apologies for what students themselves, and the
taxpayer, see as failure. Even accepting that the UK drop-out
rate of 18 per cent is relatively low compared to most other countries,
it means that £900 million of the £5 billion HE funding
council grant is, in effect, wasted. Although 260,000 students
gained a degree in 1997-98 (latest HESA figures available) a further
47,000 (18 per cent) did not do so. In today's terms they would
each have wasted between £1,000 and over £3,000 in fees,
not to mention the debts they are likely to have accumulated.
So drop-out rates do matter enormously, not
just to the Treasury and economy, but to individual students.
And analysis of the figures shows that it is the financially poorest
institutions which have the highest drop-out rate. See Table 5.
TOP 4 AND BOTTOM 4 INSTITUTIONS: DROP-OUT
RATE AND TEACHING INCOME PER STUDENT
|University of Cambridge
|University of Durham||2%
|University of Bristol||2%
|South Bank University||15%
|University of North London||15%
|University of East London||15%
Note: Drop-out rate is full-time first degree entrants
1996-97 leaving after one year ie by 1997-98; source HEFCE Performance
Indicators November 1999. Teaching income per student is total
income except income for research grants and contracts divided
by all FTE students; source Table 6, Resources of HEIs 1997-98
and Table 1 HE statistics for the UK 1997-98; HESA.
Of course, the teaching income comparisons are partly skewed
by the subject-mix; science students attract more income than
arts. But the LSE has little expensive science while South Bank,
for example, does have substantial electrical and engineering
departments. Furthermore, London is generally acknowledged to
add around 15 per cent in costs eg London Weighting payments.
It should also be acknowledged that the low and high drop-out
rates for these eight HEIs were very close to the expected (HEFCE
benchmark) drop-out rates ie adjusted for intake, the eight institutions
were doing pretty much as expected.
But the table vividly portrays the strong link between funding
and failure rates. It is hard to imagine that increasing funding
to those institutions with high expected and actual drop-out rates
would not have a dramatic effect in lowering the wastage to the
taxpayer and the student.
Of course, a great number of factors affect drop-out rates,
including family history, schooling, neighbourhood and income.
But one major factor which helps retain students is the amount
of face-to-face teaching they receive. Small group teaching is
highly effective at meeting the needs of disadvantaged students.
The more students need to be on campus, mixing with their peer
group, the stronger their affinity to the institution is likely
to be. But more face to face teaching in smaller groups, requires
more staff per student. Table 6 compares the staff student ratios
of the same four institions.
NUMBER OF STUDENTS PER MEMBER OF ACADEMIC STAFF
|South Bank University||22.7
|University of North London||24.8
|University of East London||23.9
Note: "Teaching and Research" staff only, research
staff are excluded. Source HESA 1997-98. (Full-time staff only,
no reliable figures for PT staff)