The Education and Employment Committee has agreed to the
HIGHER EDUCATION: ACCESS
1. It is twenty years since an Education
Committee of the House of Commons undertook a major inquiry into
Then, universities and
polytechnics were separately administered and funded. Now,
all are universities, subject to common funding and regulatory
Then, there were 475,000
fulltime and 175,000 parttime undergraduates in the
UK. Now, there
are approximately 1,028,000 fulltime and 373,000 parttime
Then, most entrants came
straight from schools or further education colleges, and studied
full-time for three years for a degree. Now, many enrol
after experience of employment, and a much larger proportion study
Then, tuition for full-time
undergraduates was free, and student support came in the form
of means-tested maintenance grants. Now, undergraduates
pay flat-rate means-tested tuition contributions, and borrow for
maintenance at favourable rates from the Student Loans Company.
Then, there were 62,000
fulltime and 38,000 parttime postgraduates in the
UK. Now, there
are 153,000 fulltime postgraduates and 204,000 parttime
Then, many features of
higher education provision and student support were common to
all parts of the United Kingdom. Now, devolution is giving
greater scope for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to determine
their own higher education policies
Then, few academics and
even fewer students had their own computers, and the now ubiquitous
Internet was still in its infancy.
Then, there were no league
tables. Now, league tables are a prominent feature of the
higher education scene.
2. These are only some of the most obvious features
of the transformation that has taken place in higher education
over the past twenty years. They reflect more fundamental changes:
in the role of knowledge and communication in a globally competitive
modern economy, in the importance of education in determining
individual life chances, and developments in technology. And they
give new emphasis to familiar questions. What are universities
for? Who should benefit? Who should pay? How should the system
be structured, staffed, regulated, made accountable? How can quality
be assured? On what basis should funds for research and for teaching
3. The sheer scope and scale of higher education,
and the limited resources available to the Education and Employment
Committee, inevitably constrain the coverage of an inquiry such
as our own. But it offers an opportunity to take and to publish
evidence from a wide range of interested parties, to formulate
conclusions and recommendations which reflect our interpretation
of that evidence, and to require a response from those in Government
responsible for higher education policy.
4. The Education Sub-committee announced in July
1999 its intention to undertake an inquiry into higher education.
Detailed terms of reference were announced in October 1999 [see
We appointed a number of distinguished specialist advisers to
assist the Sub-committee: Professor Janet Beer of Manchester Metropolitan
University, Professor Davina Cooper of Keele University, Dr Eilis
Ferran of St Catharine's College, Cambridge, Professor Alan Smithers
of the University of Liverpool and Professor Sir William Taylor
CBE. We are grateful to all those who have given evidence so far
in this inquiry, whether orally or in writing.
5. This interim report focuses on access to higher
education. In a further stage of the enquiry we shall be examining
the extent to which students' experience of their higher education
is being affected by finance and other pressures and the implications
for retention and attrition.
|Box 1: Terms of reference|
The Education Sub-committee is to carry out an inquiry into higher education. The inquiry will take as its starting point the quality of the student experience after 10 years of progress in developing a mass higher education system, and with the prospect of further increases in participation: for instance, the Prime Minister's aim of a 50 per cent take-up, over time, of higher education by young people. The Sub-committee is interested in the following issues:
1. How is 'quality' in teaching and learning defined?
2. How is teaching quality measured and assured? (The Sub-committee welcomes comments on the work of the Quality Assurance Agency; the Teaching Quality Assessment; and the nature of qualifications in higher education.)
3. The extent to which teaching quality varies between different disciplines and institutions (and types of institution); how quality of teaching has been, and is likely to be, affected by the continuing increase in participation in higher education; the impact (benefits/drawbacks) of employing graduate and undergraduate students in teaching ; and how developments such as the new Institute for Learning and Teaching might improve teaching quality.
4. Institutional arrangements, and their contribution to the quality of the teaching and learning experience. For instance: the balance between research and teaching; 'traditional' universities as opposed to 'non-traditional'; HE outside universities.
5. How does the way in which funding is allocated to higher education affect the nature of teaching and learning? What is, and what should be, the role of the Higher Education Funding Council for England in this respect?
6. How do different modes of attendance affect 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)?
7. The effect of changing patterns of student support and student income on the quality of learning (loans, fees, the continuing increase in the time students spend in employmentpart-time jobsduring courses).
8. How accountable are universities for the quality of the student learning experience? How will it change as students become more demanding?
9. To what extent are universities involved with their local communities? Would more work in this area have an impact on the nature of the student experience?
10. The terms of reference centre on the student
experience, which begins with the decision about whether to apply
for admission to a higher education course and the process of
applying and being accepted for admission. A generation ago, means-tested
maintenance grants and fees paid by local education authorities
for the great majority of what was then a much smaller number
of students made the student experience of higher education relatively
affordable without having to run up significant debts. The student
experience today is commonly one of a significant level of debt,
much of it in the form of subsidised student loans, and also commonly
a requirement to take part-time paid work in term time. For between
40 and 50 per cent of students there is a requirement to pay a
contribution towards the cost of tuitioncurrently £1,050
a year for those paying the full amountwhich falls to students
or their families to pay.
11. In 1997, political discussion of higher education
was largely absent from the general election campaign. The Dearing
Report was then pending and there was a tacit understanding between
two of the main parties to await its outcome. Early in this Parliament
we looked at some funding issues arising from the report of the
Dearing inquiry, namely how HM Treasury treats spending on student
loans for accounting purposes.
12. Looking forward to the next general election,
we expect that student fees/university funding, access to higher
education and student financial support will be more important
issues for the public than has previously been the case. We intend
this Report to make a contribution by helping to set the agenda
for debate and to ensure that these and other key issues in higher
education are considered properly in context.
13. In the 1998 elections for the Scottish Parliament,
student fees were an important issue. Finding a compromise on
that issue was the key to forming the coalition Scottish Executive.
Most of the Cubie Committee's recommendations on student funding
in Scotland and the Scottish Executive's response are matters
devolved to the Scottish Parliament over which we have no jurisdiction.
The issues considered by Cubie and subsequently by the Scottish
Parliament are highly relevant to the debate in England on the
future funding patterns of higher education, however, and we have
drawn on the Scottish experience in this report. A report on the
series of hearings the Education Sub-committee held on these issues
in April 2000 is at Annex 1.
14. Student finance, which forms a significant aspect
of the modern student experience, is linked to the whole question
of how higher education should be funded. For example, although
the proportion of public expenditure on higher education in the
UK is broadly comparable with other large international economies,
a far higher proportion of Government spending in the sector in
1993 was on student support than in the case of other large international
We intend to report later in this Session on a range of factors,
including student finance in the context of funding for the higher
education sector, which influence the retention of students in
higher education. An account of the evidence taken in April 2000
on student finance is at Annex 2.
15. On 25 May 2000, the Chancellor of the Exchequer
ignited a wide-ranging debate on access to higher education by
describing it as "scandalous" that the University of
Oxford had turned down an applicant "using an interview system
more reminiscent of the old boy network and the old school tie
than genuine justice in our society... It is about time for an
end to that old Britain where what matters more are the privileges
you are born with rather than the potential you actually have...
it is now time that these old universities open their doors to
women and people from all backgrounds. We are determined that
in the next ten years, the majority of young people will be able
to get higher education".
We decided not to examine in detail the individual case of the
young woman cited in the Chancellor's remarks. We welcomed the
opportunity for public debate on the question of access to higher
education that this provided. The most recent evidence from Oxford
University indicates that the number of applications made from
state schools increased after the Chancellor's speech, and the
number of offers made by the university to state school pupils
also increased, dispelling any notion that the Chancellor's remarks
1 Fifth Report from the Education, Science and Arts
Committee, Session 1979-80, The funding and organisation of
courses in higher education, HC 787-I. Back
for 1979-80, Education statistics for the United Kingdom,
for 1999-2000, Higher Education Statistics Agency, Statistical
first release, May 2000. Back
for 1979-80, representing 11.8 per cent and 19.2 per cent of the
population of full-time and part-time higher education students
respectively. Education statistics for the United Kingdom,
data for 1999-2000, representing 12.9 per cent and 35.5 per cent
of full-time and part-time higher education students respectively.
Higher Education Statistics Agency, Statistical first release,
April 2000. Back
and Employment Select Committee Press Notice 37 of 1998-99, 28
July 1999. Back
and Employment Select Committee Press Notice 41 of 1998-99, 28
October 1999. Back
List of Witnesses; &c. Back
Deb 8 Nov 2000 vol 356 col 243W. Back
Report from the Education and Employment Committee, Session 1997-98,
The Dearing Report: some funding issues, HC 241. Back
Public expenditure on tertiary education as proportion of GDP,
selected OECD countries
||Total public expenditure as % of GDP
||% of tertiary education funding spent on financial aid to students
||Total public expenditure as % of GDP
||% of tertiary education funding spent on public subsidies to households
Source: Education at a Glance 2000,
and earlier editions, OECD.
OECD Education Statistics 1985-1992, OECD. Back
reports in for example, The Times, The Guardian
and The Daily Telegraph on 26 May 2000. Back