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


APPENDIX 5

Memorandum from UNISON (HE 69)

AN END TO ELITIST EDUCATION

  UNISON is committed to an education system for all. It sees higher education as an essential part of a comprehensive system; a central strand in social and economic progress. As such, UNISON supports expansion of the sector and increased opportunities for all. Universities and colleges are funded publicly. They are part of our national heritage and not the property of a privileged class.

  The government's commitment to increased participation rates is welcome. But UNISON must express reservations about how this will be achieved and how quality will be protected.

THE FUNDING OF HIGHER EDUCATION

  It is difficult to see how higher education can expand without significant investment. Although some institutions claim to be less dependent on public money because of their ability to attract contracts, many of those contracts emanate from public funding themselves.

  The additional £100 million for 2001-02, which was announced in the comprehensive spending review 2000, is to be allocated in a less than satisfactory way. It is a good thing that £50 million has been earmarked for extra pay. It is less good that the recipients will be the most senior academics.

  Although it may be seen as an investment to attract more private money, it will have little impact on the quality of student learning and experience.

  The Bett review of higher education pay and conditions highlighted the levels of low pay across higher education. It indicated that extra funding was needed to update the industrial relations system and pay levels in the sector.

  Higher education expansion will depend on the entire staff team who will need to be motivated by appropriate reward and acknowledgement.

TUITION FEES

  UNISON has consistently warned that the introduction of tuition fees would have a negative impact upon access to higher education. It seems common sense that a large burden of debt and the need for money up front will deter students with little or no parental support.

  If students drop out of courses in large numbers, as they do in other self-financing systems, they are a greater strain on the public purse, while achieving nothing.

  Ideally, UNISON would like to see student maintenance state funded to achieve equality of access. But it accepts the financial imperatives and that students may need to pay back into the system via post-graduate taxation.

  The Dearing report that recommended tuition fees did not suggest the abolition of maintenance grants. The government should give serious consideration to the re-introduction of financial support for those most in need.

  Needless to say, UNISON is bitterly opposed to top-up fees which will widen the class divide in higher education.

WIDENING ACCESS SCHEMES

  UNISON is pleased to see funding directed towards institutions which determine to attract students from lower socio-economic groups. But these schemes should not be tokenistic or a substitute for more important measures that seek to tackle the worse excesses of the class system.

CRADLE TO GRAVE EDUCATION

  UNISON does not believe that the government and higher education professionals can tackle access challenges in isolation from the rest of the education system. There is a class of pupils who have started to fail before they begin. The wider questions of poverty, disadvantage and discrimination have to be answered to inform the debate.

  Lifelong learning is a worthy and principled concept. UNISON commits significant resources to assisting members on return to learn programmes. But it would not like to see further stratification in a system where full-time study is the preserve of the financially able and others have mix and match part-time options.

FINAL COMMENTS

  UNISON represents a wide range of staff performing essential tasks in higher education. Their recruitment and retention is vital to the expansion of the sector and they must be rewarded at least as much as comparable workers in other sectors.

  Higher education should be a mass system, where fees and finance are not a deterrent to poorer students.

  Universities and Colleges should be part of an integrated public education system. To improve access to it, social and economic differences between children should be ameliorated at an earlier stage.

  Challenging elitism in education is a fundamental step in modernising our social fabric. UNISON is pleased to support government initiatives on widening access, but urges it to consider the major barriers to participation caused by the experience of poverty, disadvantage and low expectations.

UNISON

July 2000


 
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