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


APPENDIX 3

Memorandum from the Equal Opportunities Commission (HE 55)

  (i)  The Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) is pleased to submit written evidence to the House of Commons' inquiry.

  (ii)  The EOC is deeply concerned about a number of significant gender inequality issues in higher education which are having a negative impact on the sector. These problems remain despite the joint guidance on equality in higher education which we published with the Commission for Racial Equality and CVCP in 1997. Our concerns are based on:

    —  knowledge of and data about the sector

    —  concerns brought to our attention by other organisations

    —  the complaints of sex discrimination we receive from staff and students.

  (iii)  We believe immediate attention must be given to:

    —  the under-representation of women in senior posts across all subject areas; gender segregation in subject choice and sex stereotyping in teaching and learning: this has a serious impact on future career and economic opportunities;

    —  significant pay inequality between men and women working in the sector recently identified by the Bett Inquiry;

    —  the discriminatory impact of the RAE on women in higher education for example on recruitment and promotion opportunities;

    —  the detrimental impact of fees/loans on women students and particularly, mature women;

    —  lack of gender disaggregated data across a range of issues eg student support;

    —  lack of accountability on equality issues;

    —  the absence of gender (and race) from the social inclusion and widening participation agendas.

  These concerns are reflected in our responses to the questions raised by the Committee as part of the inquiry.

  (iv)  We welcome the Government's recent steer to the Higher Education Funding Council for England towards equal opportunities and widening participation, particularly the call for higher education institutions to have equal opportunities policies and that they should be held accountable for implementing them by the Funding Council. It is appropriate that the Government make those demands on the basis of the considerable public investment in higher education. We look forward to seeing an improved focus and action on equality work in the sector over the coming years.

  (v)  Many of the comments we have made in this evidence in relation to mainstreaming equality into higher education are congruent with a recent report produced for the European Commission by the European Technology Assessment Network (ETAN). The Report—Science Policies in the European Union : Fostering Excellence Through Mainstreaming Gender Equality[1]—contains recommendations for the European Union, Member States, universities and funding councils etc which focus on:

    —  gender monitoring of statistical data

    —  gender balance in decision-making

    —  good employment practices and family-friendly policies

    —  positive action to kick start equality.

  The EOC urges the Committee to consider the ETAN report as part of the inquiry into higher education.

  (vi)  The EOC has a duty to promote equality for women and men in the education sector under the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 and we have, therefore, responded only to those questions raised by the Committee where there is a distinct gender dimension. However, where gender is an issue, quite often it is possible to take into account other equality categories such as race, disability, age etc and where practicable we urge the Committee to consider these also.

Summary of Recommendations

PERFORMANCE INDICATORS

  1.  The HEFCE's performance indicators should include data disaggregated by gender (and race etc). (Para 2.2)

  2.  The HEFCE should consider establishing an indicator which measures the progress of institutions in the sector in relation to work on equal opportunities. (Para 2.3)

QUALITY ASSURANCE AGENCY

  3.  Equality should be mainstreamed into the QAA's quality assurance framework. (Para 2.5)

  4.  The QAA should audit institutional performance on equal opportunities as a key element of quality and make appropriate recommendations for future action by the institution to rectify any shortcomings. (Para 2.6)

  5.  The Committee should examine more closely the QAA's work in relation to equality and quality, particularly in the context of the Government's commitment to social inclusion, widening participation and equal opportunities in the sector. (Para 2.9)

INSTITUTE FOR LEARNING AND TEACHING

  6.  Teachers in the sector must have access to continuing professional development which will enable them to develop appropriate teaching strategies to make their teaching relevant to all students. (Para 3.3)

  7.  Equality of opportunity should be an underpinning principle of the employment and service delivery functions of the ILT. (Para 3.5)

  8.  The ILT should collate information on the gender composition of its members for future policy making, targeting and action planning and it should do this at the point of application and/or annually. (Para 3.8)

  9.  The Committee should question the ILT in further detail about its work on equality in the context of a growing diverse student population to which teachers in the sector (ie members of the ILT) must be able to relate in their work. (Para 3.9)

PAY AND EQUALITY

  10.  Government and the HEFCE should take action to address pay inequalities which exist between women and men in the sector and develop strategies to encourage institutions to adopt equal opportunities practices for the benefit of staff and students, for example, linking funding to action on equality matters. (Para 4.5)

  11.  We urge the Committee to consider Bett's recommendations as part of the inquiry into higher education when considering equality issues in relation to staff and as a means of improving the quality of teaching and learning in the sector. (Para 4.7)

  12.  The Committee should set a timescale for action by Government and relevant HE agencies on the implementation of the Bett recommendations. We also recommend that HEIs should undertake pay audits, devise action plans to overcome pay inequality, and publish details of their work in this area. (Para 4.9)

RESEARCH ASSESSMENT EXERCISE

  13.  As a result of the decision in Mercer v London School of Economics we recommend that the RAE is reviewed urgently and its sex discriminatory elements removed. (Para 5.3)

  14.  We recommend that the HEFCE monitor the gender composition of university/college academics whose research is submitted to the RAE in order to determine to what extent this method of allocation of funds needs reform. (Para 5.7)

WIDENING PARTICIPATION

  15.  Gender should be a specific feature of Government policy on widening participation in higher education and similarly, the HEFCE should include gender (and race) in its funding criteria for widening participation. (Para 5.12)

  16.  We also recommend that additional support be given to those institutions who also take on a diverse range of students. (Para 5.13)

STUDENT SUPPORT

  17.  Government should monitor the impact of the recent changes in support arrangements for part-time students in a way which identifies particular types of students for example, socio-economic groups in terms of gender (race etc); the position of mature students by gender; and which sources of support female and male part-time students rely on for study—government, employer, private. (Para 7.2)

  18.  Government should monitor female and male student drop-out and determine the reason, particularly in relation to part-time and mature students, who are more likely to be supporting themselves than young full-time students, and those "new" students which Government is seeking to attract to HE through its widening participation agenda. (Para 7.3)

  19.  Lack of appropriate data is an issue which the Committee may wish to raise with Government and relevant HE agencies if there is to be a realistic assessment of the success of policies to widen participation in HE through targeted student support for a diverse range of students. (Para 7.6)

  20.  Government should undertake research into the impact of the new student support arrangements with a view to evaluating new policy in this area in relation to the position of men and women and mature and part-time students etc. (Para 7.9)

  21.  The Government must monitor the ability of male and female students to repay their debts and publish this data. In particular, it must examine the impact of the repayment of these debts on graduates with children/family responsibilities, especially women and single parents. (Para 7.14)

STUDENT COMPLAINTS

  22.  Institutions should take proactive measures to promote sex equality in the sector by introducing equal opportunity strategies, policies and procedures, accompanied by appropriate student complaint policies. (Para 8.3)

1.  How is "Quality" in Teaching and Learning Defined?

  1.1  In Higher Education and Equality: A Guide (EOC/CRE/CVCP 1997[2] we suggest that "quality" is synonymous with equality and vice versa. An institution which recognises the diversity of its student population and makes its teaching and learning relevant to the students' culture and existing learning styles, will also achieve a quality teaching and learning environment.

  1.2  Students bring a range of different knowledge, skills and experience with them to higher education. A diverse student population needs to be educated in a way which is relevant to them if they (and the nation) are to benefit from their studies. Access to a quality teaching and learning environment will be reflected in improved recruitment, retention and achievement rates of students.

2.  How is Teaching Quality Measured and Assured? (The Sub-Committee Welcomes Comments on the Work of the Quality Assurance Agency)

  2.1  It is our belief that equality of opportunity is a key component of quality education provision. In our view, the integration of good equality practice into all HE structures, planning and delivery of services and monitoring of performance and outcomes, will produce an efficient, effective and accessible system, where students will be motivated to succeed in their studies and where students gain a sound foundation on which to build and develop later on through lifelong learning and as they face changing employment opportunities.

2.2  Higher Education Funding Council for England

  The introduction of performance indicators in UK higher education institutions (HEFCE 1999) could be used to draw conclusions about the quality of education in the sector. We are disappointed however, that gender (and race and disability) is not a feature of the HEFCE's published data on performance indicators. We know that the HEFCE's (and the Government's) focus on widening participation in HE is in relation to social inclusion and in particular, on students from lower socio-economic groups. However, it is still necessary to consider the gender perspective since existing gender inequalities can often compound other forms of disadvantage. For example, the National Committee of Inquiry into HE (1997) reported that men from socio-economic groups IV and V are particularly unlikely to participate in HE[3]. We also need to know more about the kinds of women participating in HE; if only white, middle class women are coming into HE remedial action will need to be taken, but until data on the gender, race or ethnic origin and disability of all students it published, neither we nor others can be sure that participation in HE is open to all. Gender disaggregated data would be valuable in the debate about widening participation in HE and identifying the necessary strategies to target specific groups. The EOC recommends that the HEFCE's performance indicators should include data disaggregated by gender (and race etc).

  2.3  In Higher Education and Equality (EOC/CRE/CVCP 1997), we suggest that performance indicators should be adopted in order to monitor the success of failure of equal opportunity strategies which have been implemented to meet the needs of a diverse student population and staff complement. Both quantitative and qualitative indicators should be used in order to measure different aspects of the institution's practices.[4] We recommend that the HEFCE should consider establishing an indicator which measures the progress of institutions in the sector in relation to work on equal opportunities.


  2.4  The EOC is currently working with the DFEE to produce gender equality performance indicators in relation to Modern Apprenticeships and National Traineeships and, while this work is still at the development stage, we believe that such indicators could help institutions to monitor and improve their performance in the area of equality and quality.

2.5  The Quality Assurance Agency for HE (QAA)

  The EOC and Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) are concerned that equality is not a major feature of the QAA's work in the sector. The new framework for quality assurance does not address equal opportunities issues and a number of recent QAA reports on quality make few judgements about equality in the teaching and learning process. Although the QAA does produce guidance for audit teams in relation to subject reviews, equal opportunities does not feature strongly in the eventual subject report. The EOC recommends that equality should be mainstreamed into the QAA's quality assurance framework. Both Commissions have made representations to the QAA but with little success. The establishment of the QAA and a new quality assurance framework provided an ideal opportunity to mainstream equality but this is an opportunity that has been missed. Furthermore, as national equality agencies, we are disappointed that we have not been invited to join in subsequent consultations.

  2.6  The QAA's duty is to examine quality of provision in the sector but if equality is not a feature of the audit how can the QAA be sure that all students receive and benefit from quality education? For example, in a selection of 1999 audits, the QAA details some gender breakdown of course participants within subjects but does not consider the different achievement rates of male/female students and of white/ethnic minority students etc. This is unfortunate since the QAA would be able to recommend action for addressing inequalities, where necessary, in the resultant institutional report. In the new "fee culture" we believe that students will wish to look more closely at an institution's performance in relation to equality for specific groups, but currently such information is not available. We recommend that the QAA audit institutional performance on equal opportunities as a key element of quality and make appropriate recommendations for future action by the institution to rectify any shortcomings.

  2.7  We understand that the QAA will audit an institution on equality matters only if this is a feature of the institution's mission statement or incorporate objectives. This leads to inconsistencies in audits across the sector in relation to equality issues. Equal opportunities should be built into the new quality assurance framework rather than being an afterthought. In a climate where the Government is trying to promote equality issues generally and wider participation in HE, the QAA must look at the quality of the teaching and learning in relation to its impact on students.

  2.8  The HE sector is now alone in its resistance to include equal opportunities within its inspection/quality assurance framework. Ofsted, the new post-16 inspection arrangements for further education and training providers, and the Investors in People framework for employers all now recognise the need to build equality into equality assurance as a key feature of good delivery.

  2.9  In addition, the Government's recent announcement that it intends to place an equality duty on public bodies not to discriminate signals the need for bodies like the QAA to mainstream equality. We recommend that the Committee examine more closely, the QAA's work in relation to equality and quality, particularly in the context of the Government's commitment to social inclusion, widening participation and equal opportunities in the sector.

3.  The extent to which quality of teaching has been, and is likely to be affected by the continuing increase in participation in higher education; and how developments such as the new institute for learning and teaching might improve teaching quality

  3.1  Changes in higher education from an elite to a mass education system have resulted in a wider range of students coming into the sector—more women students, part-time students, older students with family responsibilities, students from different ethnic minority groups, overseas students, students who do not have traditional entry qualifications and so on. As the student population becomes more diverse, so there are many more students with different needs and experience.

  3.2  Currently, take up of some subjects in the sector is still heavily gender segregated[5] along traditional lines. (At Annex 2, is a table of participation rates in HE by subject). This is surprising, in view of the fact that more girls are now performing well across all subjects up to age 16 but the cycle of gender segregation seems to take hold after compulsory education. The impact of such choices on future careers and lifetime earnings can be detrimental, particularly in relation to the subjects/occupations that many young girls choose.

  3.3  Changes in patterns and types of employment opportunities mean that one of the key features of widening participation should be to encourage women and men to access non-traditional courses. We recommend that teachers in the sector must have access to continuing professional development which will enable them to develop appropriate teaching strategies to make their teaching relevant to all students. For example, teachers of subjects which are traditionally male-dominated such as engineering or computing, should be required to undertake training which will help them to present their subject in a way which would be relevant to and encourage access and achievement by women students and vice versa for teachers of traditionally female-dominated courses.

  3.4  A good example is the "Lets Twist" project,[6] based at Bradford and Ilkley College. The project aims to encourage more women to train and work in science, engineering, construction and technology and to mainstream good practice developed by women lecturers/trainers on women only courses in non-traditional areas. The project has found that FE colleges which have successful women only courses are in the minority and are, on the whole, ones which have adopted similar good practice to that adopted by various women's training schemes offered in discrete training centres across the UK over the past 10 to 15 years. Consequently one of the main objectives of the project is to train lecturers in how to use this good practice in their courses in order to attract women students into non-traditional subjects.

  3.5  Institute for Learning and Teaching (ILT)

  In 1998, the EOC welcomed the proposal to establish the ILT. The planning stages for the ILT presented an ideal opportunity to mainstream equality throughout the organisation and we were disappointed that the Institute did not seize this opportunity. We recommend therefore that equality of opportunity should be an underpinning principle of the employment and service delivery functions of the ILT.

  3.6  Appropriate teacher training is an important factor in the quest to maximise student performance and to deliver high standards in the HE sector. The gender dimensions of teaching and learning need to be recognised and addressed through teacher training. We would like to see the ILT engage in research and development activities to inform best practice in HE and how it could be incorporated into teaching and learning strategies and into the HE curriculum.

  3.7  We also raised with the ILT, the likely disparate impact of a flat-rate membership fee[7] on teachers who wanted to register because many women working in HE earn less than their male colleagues. Also, as the Bett Inquiry has revealed, most of those staff on temporary and part-time contracts are women. We suggested that the onus should be on institutions to secure membership of the ILT for their staff as part of their professional development.

  3.8  More recently, it has been brought to our attention that the ILT membership application forms do not contain any questions for monitoring gender (and race, disability, age etc) of applicants. As the Bett Inquiry has illustrated, data collection on the profile of academics in the sector is imperative in order to determine future policy and action planning. We believe it is important therefore, for the ILT to collate information on the gender composition of its members for future policy making, targeting and action planning and it should do this at the point of application and/or annually.

  3.9  We also recommend that the Committee question the ILT in further detail about its work on equality and in the context of a growing diverse student population which teachers in the sector (ie members of the ILT) must be able to relate to in their work.

4.  Institutional arrangements, and their contribution to the quality of the teaching and learning experience

  4.1  There is a greater tendency for institutions to resort to part-time, casual and fixed term appointments of teaching staff[8]. We believe that such staff must be inclined in any training and professional development offered by the institution. Those institutions which employ a large proportion of their teaching staff on such contracts must not allow the quality of education to suffer because they have failed to make adequate training and development opportunities available to all teaching staff.

  4.2  The quality of teaching may also be affected by the effect on the teacher of the terms and conditions on which lecturers are employed. Where short-term, temporary contracts are used, lecturers may feel less motivated and rewarded than colleagues on permanent contracts. The Bett Report has highlighted inequalities in pay and conditions of service in HE, a feature of the sector which must be a cause of concern in relation to staff morale, opportunities for promotion and progression. All these factors can affect the quality of teaching.

  4.3  We particularly welcome therefore, the statement by the Secretary of State in his University of Greenwich[9] speech when he said:

      "...accountability holds true for equal opportunities for women, ethnic minorities and those with disabilities as university staff. Higher education has not made sufficient progress on equal opportunities for its employees in the past. In fact, the situation is frankly deplorable. Pay discrimination is widespread, and institutional leadership is totally unrepresentative of wider society. Only 5 of the 72 English universities and only 6 of the Standing Conference of Principals institutions are headed by women, and there are no ethnic minority heads in either of these categories."

  4.4  We are also pleased to see that the Secretary of State has asked the HEFCE to ensure that HEIs are accountable for full and proper implementation of their EO policies. We look forward to hearing how the HEFCE proposes to undertake this task and to seeing its report on the progress by HEIs in working towards equality for their staff.

  4.5  We recommend that Government and the HEFCE take action to address pay inequalities which exist between women and men in the sector and develop strategies to encourage institutions to adopt equal opportunities practices for the benefit of staff and students, for example, linking funding to action on equality matters.

  4.6  Currently, many HE institutions already have EO policies but many do not follow-up on their commitment to equality through a strategy or action plans.[10] Within HE unequal pay is a major problem as shown by the Bett Report. Bett found that within all major groups, except clerical staff, women earned less than men overall. Bett raised concern about whether HE institutions were fully meeting their statutory obligations to ensure equal pay for work of equal value; the low priority given to people management issues; the fact that pay structures for all staff were largely unchanged from the 1960s and that there was a lack of regularly collected data to underpin the consideration of pay and related issues at a national level.

  Bett made a number of recommendations which included:

    —  each institution should publish a clear statement of its policies on equal opportunities and the steps it is taking to ensure equality for women and ethnic minorities

    —  the sector should collect comprehensive data on the numbers and pay of all staff on a regular and systematic basis

    —  pay structures should be underpinned by job evaluation or some other form of job analysis and ranking

    —  a common core of minimum conditions of service should be negotiated for all staff which should include holiday and sick leave, maternity benefits, special leave and access to grievance procedures; and these conditions should apply on a pro rata basis to part-time staff

    —  additional funding would be needed from public and other sources with an estimate that to meet equal pay obligations would result in spending of an extra 2½ per cent (approximately) of the sector's total costs. The Committee suggested that the Government should fund 2/3rds (£380 out of £580 million) of the costs of implementing the report.

  4.7  We urge the Committee to consider Bett's recommendations as part of the inquiry into higher education when considering equality issues in relation to staff and as a means of improving the quality of teaching and learning in the sector.

  4.8  We understand that the CVCP has requested funding to address the Bett recommendations as part of their submission to the Government's current Comprehensive Spending Review. A failure to secure his funding must not be seen as a reason for inaction on addressing pay inequality—this issue must be addressed for staff and for the quality of teaching and learning.

  4.9  We recommend that the Committee should set a timescale for action by Government and relevant HE agencies on the implementation of the Bett recommendations. We also recommend that HEIs should undertake pay audits, devise action plans to overcome pay inequality, and publish details of their work in this area.

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?

5.1  Research Assessment Exercise

  The EOC believes that using the RAE as the basis of allocating funds to institutions may have a detrimental impact on the employment and promotion opportunities available to women in HE, particularly in senior positions. University and college departments may, unintentionally, appoint fewer women in the belief that some women may take time off work due to pregnancy or family commitments and be unable to carry out research work which can be used as part of the institution's submission to the RAE. Therefore, in making appointments and promoting staff, institutions are likely to consider the potential of a candidate to contribute towards the RAE and the institution's likely success in achieving a higher "star" rating and therefore, increased funding.

  5.2  The AUT has recently produced a paper (October 1999) setting out the situation as it relates to maternity and the RAE, which contains some suggestions about how the RAE could take into account reduced research activity as a result of maternity leave.

  5.3  On 13 April 2000 in the case of Dr Helen Mercer v London School of Economics (LSE)[11], an EOC-funded case, the Employment Tribunal (ET) found, unanimously, that Dr Mercer suffered both direct sex discrimination because the post was awarded to a less qualified male candidate and indirect sex discrimination in relation to the RAE. Indirect sex discrimination occurs when an unjustifiable condition exists which fewer members of one sex can comply with. In higher education, as funding is dependent on research activity, fewer women than men are likely to be able to comply with the condition because they may be on maternity leave, work part-time or be employed on a casual basis. Women are potentially less likely to be appointed or promoted to senior positions or recommended to be part of the institution's team for the RAE. Clearly, as a result of this decision, it is now imperative that the RAE is reviewed and its sex discriminatory elements removed, and we recommend that this is done as a matter of urgency.

  5.4  The tradition in higher education is that staff must be able to produce evidence of research activity through their own publications and journal articles in order to show that they are competent in their field. While it is appropriate to be able to judge a candidate's knowledge, experience and skills, the approach adopted does not seem to make allowances for the fact that many women take time off for pregnancy and raising a family and therefore, are unlikely to be able to maintain and expand their "list of published references" in comparison to their male counterparts. The Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology recently recommended in its report "Women in Science, Engineering and Technology" (2000) that universities "...develop more sophisticated methods of appointment and promotion, so that criteria other than the number of papers published are assessed".

  5.5  In a recent article about the RAE and the way in which it militates against women achieving senior academic positions in HE, Peter Knight (THES 3 March 2000) highlighted the fact that the composition of the panels in the next round of the RAE is predominantly male. Fewer than one in four panel members are women and only one in seven of the panel chairs is female. He also revealed that the panels chaired by women are responsible for the allocation of less than ten per cent of the RAE funding. For example, a large proportion of the RAE funding is allocated towards traditionally male subjects such as clinical medicine, engineering, and the physical sciences, while traditional female subjects such as nursing receive very little—£46 million for clinical medicine compared to just under £2 million for nursing.

  5.6  The EOC is pleased to learn, that the HEFCE has recently added to its guidance on methodology for the next round of the RAE, the following statement:

    "The situation of staff who have taken maternity leave or other career breaks, who hold part-time contracts, who are disabled, or who have been absent for long periods through illness (where this is indicated by the HEIs) will be taken into account in reaching overall judgements of quality where it is indicated in submissions".

  5.7  The onus is on institutions to indicate where staff have been absent for whatever reason, it is not a requirement and therefore, institutions may decide not to admit to such absences or not allow staff in such situations to form part of the institutions RAE submission. It will be important to monitor the situation closely to see it this change enables more women to achieve senior positions in HE. The HEFCE may need to consider more radical reform of the system for allocating funds to HE to secure equality in the sector and in order to balance the focus in HE between research and teaching/learning. We recommend that the HEFCE monitor the gender composition of university/college academics whose research is submitted to the RAE in order to determine to what extent this method of allocation of funds needs reform.

5.8  Widening Participation

  The EOC welcomes the additional funding which has been allocated by the HEFCE to specific projects in relation to widening participation. This will enable institutions to develop strategies which meet their own needs.

  5.9  We also welcome the suggestions by the Secretary of State for Education and Employment to the HEFCE in relation to widening access[12] in relation to mature students and the need to have regard to funding support for childcare and students with caring responsibilities. We look forward to hearing more from the HEFCE about how it intends to respond to the Secretary of State's suggestions in this respect.

  5.10  However, we have been concerned that neither in the HEFCE's funding criteria nor in the Secretary of State's letter does the focus on widening participation specifically include gender (and race etc).

  5.11  Often students suffer disadvantage for a number of reasons and not just because they are black or female or working class. It is often a combination of these characteristics which can lead to disadvantage and which should feature in any strategies to attract under-represented groups into HE. The EOC and CRE made representations to the HEFCE at the end of 1998 during the consultation period on the new proposals to widen participation in HE but with little success.

  5.12  Clearly, funding for HE will determine the extent to which particular courses or groups are catered for in the sector. Institutions will not be so eager to offer courses which they must fund themselves and which are unlikely to generate income from student fees, particularly in relation to under-represented groups. Often such courses prove to be more costly because of extra support, resources, timetabling etc and students may be more likely to "drop-out" before completing the course. We recommend that gender should be a specific feature of Government policy on widening participation in higher education and similarly, the HEFCE should include gender (and race) in its funding criteria for widening participation.

  5.13  We also recommend that additional support be given to those institutions who also take on a diverse range of students.

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?

  See response to question 7.

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 employment—part-time jobs—during courses).

  7.1  In 1997-98 nearly 30 per cent of undergraduate students were studying part-time[13] and just under two thirds of first year part-time under-graduates were female.[14] The different treatment of full and part-time students is still an anomaly in the student support system. Many part-time students are women and while we recognise that the Government has promised extra help for some part-time students (it is still too early to assess the impact of this) they should not be penalised for choosing to study on a part-time basis. Many have no choice because of childcare or family commitments, others may need to continue to bring income into the household through part-time work which full-time study would not allow. We welcome the extra help (in loans) for part-time students on low incomes but such a facility should be extended to all part-time students.

  7.2  We recommend that the Government should monitor the impact of the recent changes in support for part-time students in a way which identifies particular types of students for example, socio-economic groups in terms of gender (race etc); the position of mature students by gender; and which sources of support female and male part-time students rely on for study—government, employer, private.

  7.3  Linked to this, is the prospect that many part-time and mature students may have to drop-out of their studies if the financial student support structures available to them are not adequate. We recommend that Government monitor female and male student drop-out and determine the reasons, particularly in relation to part-time and mature students, who are more likely to be supporting themselves than young full-time students, and those "new" students which Government is seeking to attract to HE through its widening participation agenda.

  7.4  There have been many changes to the student support system: the introduction of fees, extra help for students on benefits, lone parents, part-time students, mature students, and increases to Access Funds and opening these up to part-time students. The problem of assessing the impact of these initiatives on take-up courses is compounded by the lack of good data. Statistics on student support contain very little data which is disaggregated by gender, race, age, mode of study etc and therefore, it is difficult to draw any firm conclusions about the "make-up" of students accessing different levels of student support or of changes over time.

  7.5  For example, latest DFEE (1999) information on student support is disaggregated by gender only in relation to the take-up of student loans and income-contingent loans. This data shows slightly more women than men taking out student loans in 1998-99, compared with 1990-91 when nearly 60 per cent of the total loans were taken out by male students. This could be explained by the increase in female students in HE over the same period. However, it would also be useful to have such information disaggregated by age, status, race etc.

  7.6  Lack of appropriate data is an issue which the Committee may wish to raise with Government and relevant HE agencies if there is to be a realistic assessment of the success of policies to widen participation in HE through targeted student support for a diverse range of students.

  7.7  In relation to widening participation and the recent changes in student support, in particular the introduction of fees, UCAS (Aug 1999) states that "analysis (of the data) accords with prima facie expectations that mature students and ethnic minority groups would be hardest hit." However, UCAS believes that more analysis of the relevant data is necessary to establish a causal link. The EOC would like UCAS to undertake further analysis of its data to identify which particular groups have been affected by changes to HE student support arrangements.

  7.8  In addition to statistical evidence, research is needed to explore this issue/impact further. The EOC has received some comments about the difficulties facing women students which identify some critical issues of student support, mode of attendance and quality of engagement with HE. These are attached at Annex 1.

  7.9  We recommend that Government undertake research into the impact of the new student support arrangements with a view to evaluating new policy in this area in relation to the position of men and women and mature and part-time students etc.

  7.10  Many students will be faced with loans and other debts to repay, once they complete their studies. The EOC is concerned that many women graduates will be faced with much longer repayment periods for their debts because often they earn less than men over their lifetimes and many have responsibility for paying childcare and other related expenses.

  7.11  Current pay rates indicate that women only earn 80 per cent of male average earnings. In particular, the DFEE's 1997 consultation document—Higher Education for the 21st Century—illustrated graphically[15] the pay gap between male and female graduates, indicating approximately, women's gross weekly earnings, between the ages of 30-39, as no more than £350; whereas men can expect to earn approximately £550. These differences take effect as soon as individuals begin to earn.

  7.12  The differences in pay rates for men and women are inextricably linked to the subjects which students study at university as many of those subjects which women take lead to jobs which attract poorer rates of pay and vice versa for men. Since a graduate's ability to repay their student debt will be linked to their earning capacity, it is important that some effort is made to advise students about the impact of the choices they make on their future financial status.

  7.13  Female graduates with student debts are more likely to require longer to repay their loans and ultimately, they will be in a worse position, economically, than men by the time they retire. In the early 1990's analysis of student debts under the Australian education system indicated that while 96 per cent of male students were likely to have repaid their debts by the time they retire, only 77 per cent of female students would be able to do so[16].

  7.14  In addition, the calculation of repayments on an income-contingent basis does not make provision for other costs which individuals may incur and which may have a bearing on their ability to repay their debts, such as childcare costs, often the responsibility of women and particularly for lone parents. Indeed, having children will delay a woman's ability to begin repaying her debt. The Government must monitor the ability of male and female students to repay their debts and publish this data. In particular, it must examine the impact of the repayment of these debts on graduates with children/family responsibilities, especially women and single parents. Financial help for some graduates who have childcare responsibilities to enable them to take-up employment, may prove cost-effective to the Government in recouping student debts.

  7.15  In examining the situation of student support in HE, we invite the Committee to consider the recommendations of the Cubie Report (1999) in Scotland, particularly in relation to widening opportunities for women and men in HE.

8.  How accountable are universities for the quality of the student learning experience? How will it change as students become more demanding?

  8.1  Institutions have a duty under the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 not to discriminate against students because of their sex. They are also legally responsible for the discriminatory actions of their employees, unless the institution can show that it has taken all reasonable steps to prevent such discrimination through staff training, guidance codes of practice/behaviour etc. We believe that such practices and procedures should be part and parcel of the day to day organisation and management in HEIs and the joint guidance we have produced (EOC/CRE/CVCP 1997) helps institutions to mainstream equality.

  8.2  In order for students to be able to raise complaints about the discriminatory behaviour/actions of others against them, appropriate complaints procedures must be established and made known throughout the institution, both to make them easily accessible and to act as a deterrent to potential offenders. To enable institutions to comply with their duties under the SDA, complaints policies and procedures of this nature should encompass sex discrimination and sexual harassment (and race, disability etc). The EOC continues to receive complaints from students in the sector on a range of issues and these are evidence of the need for appropriate complaints policies and procedures. The most common complaints are related to female students in terms of sexual harassment and pregnancy/childcare.

  8.3  Students, who are now expected to contribute more towards their education in the sector, may be more likely to assert their rights in respect of sex discrimination issues, particularly where the nature of the discrimination will have an impact on their studies and final qualifications and therefore, could potentially have a major impact on their future career opportunities and economic prosperity. In theory, fees should make institutions more accountable on issues of sex discrimination. However, there is very little caselaw on sex discrimination claims in education but potential legal remedies in successful cases (eg in sexual harassment claims by students against a lecturer/institution) could be considerable as has been witnessed in sex discrimination claims in the employment sector. Financially "strapped" institutions will not wish to risk the possibility of costly legal fees in such circumstances and therefore, it is important that they take preventative measures and be proactive on equality issues. We recommend that institutions take proactive measures to promote sex equality in the sector by introducing equal opportunity strategies, policies and procedures, accompanied by appropriate student complaint policies.

Equal Opportunities Commission

May 2000


1   The Report is available to view on the Internet at ftp://ftp.cordis.lu/pub/etan/docs/women.pdf. Back

2   Higher Education & Equality : A Guide-produced jointly by the EOC, Commission for Racial Equality and the Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals. Back

3   p. 103 main report. Back

4   Examples of these are given in Chapter 5 of Higher Education & Equality. Back

5   HESA (1999 p.5) states that "women were a significant majority in subjects allied to medicine, and were also very strongly represented among students of biological sciences, veterinary science, social, economic and political studies, librarianship and information sciences, languages and education." "Men were a significant majority in engineering and technology, in computer science and in architecture, building and planning and strongly represented in physical and mathematical sciences.". Back

6   Contact address : Annette Williams, Dept of Engineering & Construction, Bradford & Ilkley Community College, Great Horton Road, Bradford. BD7 1AJ. Tel 01274 753355. www.bilk.ac.uk/college/extraweb/twistweb/index.htm/ Back

7   We understand that the ILT has reduced its joining fee from £75 to £25 but the annual flat-rate membership fee remains at £75. Back

8   The Bett Report on Pay in HE identified the extent of casualisation with some institutions having very high levels of non-permanent staff. Back

9   Rt Hon David Blunkett MP, Secretary of State for Education and Employment's visit to The University of Greenwich on 15th February 2000. Back

10   CUCO's survey (1997) of HE institutions showed that while 96 per cent of HEIs had an EO policy, only about one third had action plans to back these up, although at the time of the survey, a further 25 per cent were in the process of developing their plans. Back

11   Dr J H Mercer v London School of Economics, heard on 28/29 February and 1 March 2000. Compensation/costs have yet to be decided. Dr Mercer was denied a permanent lecturing appointment in favour of a male candidate, despite the fact that she had been undertaking the job on a temporary basis for the previous 18 months and had received a "glowing" assessment of her work not long before the job was advertised. The male candidate who was appointed was deemed to have "star" quality and the potential to be promoted to professor, although he had less teaching experience. The LSE believed he had a greater potential to contribute to the RAE than Dr Mercer, who had not been able to undertake research prior to the recruitment process because she had been establishing the new course. (The LSE currently has a five star rating, the highest RAE rating.) In addition, it seems that the female candidate's family commitments and the fact that she suffered a miscarriage just prior to the interviews, could also have influenced the appointments panel. Back

12   Letter from Rt Hon David Blunkett MP, Secretary of State for Education and Employment, to Sir Michael Checkland, Chairman, HEFCE 23.11.99. "Higher Education Funding for 2000-01 and 2001-02". Back

13   HESA 1999-table D page 8. Back

14   HESA 1999-page 49. Back

15   Higher Education for the 21st Century, page 12 Chart 5. Back

16   Harding (1994) quoted by Professor Meredith Edwards in her speech at the CVCP Conference on Fees on 9 September 1997. Back


 
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