Select Committee on Education and Skills Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40 - 59)

MONDAY 10 DECEMBER 2001

SIR HOWARD NEWBY AND MR BAHRAM BEKHRADNIA

Valerie Davey

  40. So at the present time the Government is reviewing student finance and HEFCE has an important area of work. What are your recommendations?
  (Sir Howard Newby) To say, first of all, that we are not responsible for student funding. My concern, as Chief Executive of HEFCE, is to ensure that whatever solution for student funding is arrived at by Government does not undermine that bit of funding we are responsible for, which is funding the institutions. For example, if the fee were to be abolished that would leave a £650 million per annum hole in the financing of higher education in England, which would be of concern to me.

  41. So your intimation to the Committee earlier that the students more able to pay should still go on paying—
  (Sir Howard Newby) That is a personal opinion, that is not a HEFCE policy statement, I should emphasise that. I am speaking to you in a personal capacity, none of this has been discussed by my board.

  42. HEFCE does not have a view in effect?
  (Sir Howard Newby) HEFCE does not have a view because it is not our business.

  43. So HEFCE is simply there to ensure the funding goes to the institutions in effect?
  (Sir Howard Newby) Yes, and through our institutional funding then to achieve some of the other goals we have been talking about, such as widening participation.

  44. But you are not there without the students and the students have to be funded?
  (Sir Howard Newby) Indeed.

  45. The fee, I think you are right, has been the focus and possibly for many students, because they are not paying it, not the central focus. However, you are right to intimate that without the fee the Government would have to find a larger amount of money and without the fee if it is rolled up, as in Scotland, then it is thrown back to the individual student to pay and not the family. Do you still believe the family has a role in funding higher education?
  (Sir Howard Newby) I genuinely find this a very tricky issue. I have to say I speak as a parent here as well as professionally. The universities, of course, do not act in loco parentis legally. The vast majority of students when they enter university are legally adult. Having said that, of course universities accept a duty of care to those students, as the sector must, so I think it is a nicely balanced issue as to whether or not as a matter of policy one insists that parents should continue to have responsibility, including financial responsibility, for a group of people who are legally adults. It has not been an issue that has been raised, I think the assumption on the whole has been they do have such a duty and, therefore, it is the parents who should contribute. It is an interesting issue.

  46. I agree. The payments to the institutions, however, by a whole group of factors, as you have already indicated, need presumably to go up with the increasing numbers. Are you expecting that to come from Government or are you looking at other sources for that extra funding?
  (Sir Howard Newby) I think we are neutral as to what the source should be. It does need to go up because, for all the reasons we have been talking about in the last half hour or so, the kind of students we need to bring into the sector are going to be a different kind of student from those who traditionally have been involved in higher education before. They are going to be qualitatively different. They are going to require different kinds of support, especially more support for learning skills, and that will increase our costs undoubtedly. It is that additional cost I feel strongly has to be met otherwise if we do not do that then we are going to jeopardise quality.

  47. Lastly, if I may, is HEFCE looking at different forms other than the traditional three year degree? Are you looking, for example, which we discovered, I think, in going to Salford and that group of universities, at students who are doing two years, working a year, and then coming back often with that firm financial support to do their last year or, indeed, part-time? Are you looking at that wider range?
  (Sir Howard Newby) Yes, we are and we always have done. I think we all believe that the way in which higher education is supplied, if I can put it that way, is going to have to become more flexible in the future. That is to say, it is going to be delivered more and more at a time and in a place which more satisfies the needs of the students than the suppliers. We are going to have to think of a whole range of delivery mechanisms which are going to make it much more flexible because we are talking about life-long learning now, not just something that happens between 18 and 21. Yes, delivering it part-time, delivering it in the workplace, delivering it episodically, all of those things come into play. You will be aware that we have recently launched the e-University as a means of giving more learning electronically. Of course, there are proposals for an NHS University, which we have been talking to our colleagues about there. All of these are part of the mix that we will see going forward.

Ms Munn

  48. I want to follow up on a point you made to my colleague earlier. You said that HEFCE itself is not expressing a view about student finance. Given that there is only one overall pot, are you really saying that funding for higher education is a separate issue from the need for support of students?
  (Sir Howard Newby) This in a way is my difficulty because, of course, in one sense it is all seamless. The duties and responsibilities of HEFCE are to supply adequate funds to institutions and students themselves, of course, are financed directly in other ways. I take absolutely the point that we would not wish to see students inadequately financed any more than they themselves would or anyone else, but since we are not responsible for funding students directly my main responsibility is to advocate that whatever solution is arrived at should not take money away from the sector because the sector simply cannot afford to have any more resources taken away from it. In fact, to meet these targets we are talking about we will need very considerable additional resources to meet the Prime Minister's 50 per cent target.

Chairman

  49. How much more do you think you would need to meet the Prime Minister's targets?
  (Sir Howard Newby) On a numerical basis to meet that 50 per cent target, we need at least 300,000 additional students in the sector by 2010. I say "at least" because it could be more depending on what the mix is between full-time and part-time and what the length of their courses are, which varies a little from one subject to another, and so on. But we need at least 300,000, so depending on how you break that down between different mixes of subjects—science, medicine, arts, humanities, social sciences and so on—the average across the board is about £7 or £8,000 per student.
  (Mr Bekhradnia) Yes, we are talking about £1 billion or more.

  50. That is with no extra money on anything else?
  (Sir Howard Newby) No, that is just to meet—

  51.—just to meet the Prime Minister's aspirations. Can he not do it on the cheap? Can he not do it on the cheap in terms of part-time degrees, much of it being delivered in FE? We had a witness here recently who said more people are taking HE courses outside universities, which was almost twice as many as were in universities at the time of the Robbins Report.
  (Sir Howard Newby) If by "on the cheap" you mean cheaper than we already do, the answer is no, for two reasons. One is, if we do it any more cheaply we will jeopardise quality. Secondly, to repeat, the kind of students we are going to have to attract in now will place greater demands and additional costs, both in attracting and retaining those students, in the system. The last thing we want to do is attract in more students, give them a lower quality educational experience, which is not fair to them, and then to lose large numbers of them at the end of the first year because they have not been adequately supported. That is the way in which, frankly, many continental European countries do it, and we do not believe that is the right way to go.

Mr Chaytor

  52. On the question of HEFCE not having a position, you say this is not part of your duties, but it is your duty to ensure the targets for expansion are met.
  (Sir Howard Newby) Indeed.

  53. In fact, the Secretary of State in her letter to your chairman recently says explicitly, "I will judge the Council's performance by the extent to which the targets are met."
  (Sir Howard Newby) Indeed.

  54. That is quite a threatening sort of statement, I would have thought.
  (Sir Howard Newby) It is one we are taking very seriously.

  55. I am very pleased to hear that. Does it not mean therefore it would be very useful to have HEFCE have a position, given the question of student support is so crucial to the possibility of achieving targets?
  (Sir Howard Newby) I am genuinely not trying to be evasive here. First of all, my board has not discussed this—

  56. Would you recommend they ought to discuss it?
  (Sir Howard Newby) If the Government's proposals were such that in my view they might seriously jeopardise our ability to meet those targets, then certainly I would invite my board to express a very strong view on that matter.

  Mr Chaytor: You do not think the board should be more pro-active in ensuring the Government's proposals are actively helping to meet your targets?

Chairman

  57. Come on, Professor Newby. This is a bare knuckle fight for the future of higher education. Surely you should be slogging it out there?
  (Sir Howard Newby) I am looking forward to the hard pounding on the Spending Review. I take the view that a very clear election manifesto commitment has been set. It is the first election manifesto commitment I can recall which involves higher education, certainly in my lifetime as an academic. Having willed the ends, it seems to me the Government must will the means. It is important that whatever student financing regime is decided upon, it must meet the twin criteria I have set out. One is not to take money away from institutions and, secondly, not to act as a disincentive for students coming in.

Mr Chaytor

  58. On the question of evidence of participation, you said earlier that currently the participation rate was 34 per cent. Of what?
  (Sir Howard Newby) In England, of 18 year olds entering higher education; the 18 year old cohort at the time it would enter higher education.

  59. The Government's target is 50 per cent of 18 to 30 year olds.
  (Sir Howard Newby) It is 50 per cent of 18 to 30 year olds having had some experience of higher education by 2010.


 
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