Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40
MONDAY 10 DECEMBER 2001
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.
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.
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 subjectsscience, medicine, arts, humanities, social
sciences and so onthe 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
(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.
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
(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
(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?
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.
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.