Select Committee on Education and Skills Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80 - 87)

MONDAY 10 DECEMBER 2001

SIR HOWARD NEWBY AND MR BAHRAM BEKHRADNIA

Mr Baron

  80. You seem to be privately agreeing that the perception of debt is important, maybe not the debt level itself but the perception of debt is terribly important with regards to trying to improve participation levels, but you have also mentioned the fact that you think there should be much greater involvement by universities, perhaps private industry as well, into schools to try to help them through this process, to try to encourage more students to participate and go on to higher education. We have agreed on the debt side of things but can I just tease out a little bit more about how would you get involved in schools. What recommendations would you make to the Government about this?
  (Sir Howard Newby) First of all I would encourage more—the technical term—compacting between schools, colleges and universities so, for example—this always sounds a rather arrogant way of putting it but I cannot think of a better way—we can manage the supply chain better so that students at 13 or 14 when their cultural attitudes to learning are concretized, can be set on a pathway where it is seen as "normal" and "acceptable" in terms of their own peer group to progress through eventually to higher education. To do that we need to involve not only the universities more in schools and colleges but also schools and colleges more in universities, providing more part-time appointments for school teachers in universities and encouraging schemes for people from universities to spend part of the time in schools as well. Essentially trying to create a more holistic partnership between schools, FE colleges and universities within a local region so they are all working together to run what I called earlier this campaign.

  81. This is very important to you, is it not, and it is very important to put some concrete proposals on the table together because, without beating about the bush, it is going to be very difficult for you to achieve your targets if you do not instigate these sorts of policies.
  (Sir Howard Newby) Absolutely. We have got proposals that my board has discussed about creating what we call big partnerships between schools, colleges and universities which would achieve this. I repeat, if these students are not coming through at 18 adequately prepared and with the right kinds of qualifications to go into higher education then we are not going to meet those targets.

  82. Have you put concrete proposals on the table to the Government about this? Is this your main thrust with regards to trying to improve participation levels?
  (Sir Howard Newby) Yes to both questions.

  83. Have you made recommendations where you could perhaps aim to influence the actual curriculum of the school itself?
  (Sir Howard Newby) There was a time when universities did do that through the universities' traditional control of A level syllabuses, Joint Matriculation Boards.

  84. Are you going to go back to that?
  (Sir Howard Newby) A lot of water has gone under the bridge since then. I think there are many in universities who would wish to see us exert rather more control over syllabuses because in some subjects the sheer variety of A level syllabuses, especially when you have modular A levels, is such that it is quite difficult to make common assumptions about what they know when they come into university. At the moment what I would like to see is for us, again, to talk to the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority to see what we can do with them to improve matters. I think in recent years the number of A level Boards has been reduced, the qualifications system has been made rather more coherent than it was, say, ten years ago. I would like to see what we can achieve by working with them before we went any further. But it is an issue.

  Mr Baron: It is going to become more so, if we are going to meet these targets.

  Chairman: I will now bring in Paul Holmes who has been on another Committee.

Paul Holmes

  85. You are saying that from your perspective certainly the perception of debt has put students off. I was head of a sixth form for the last 12 years and I would certainly say that the students I dealt with over that period of time, who were the first generation A-level and probably first generation university, were put off by the perception of fees and loans. In achieving the targets for the increase in the number of students, how far would the financial support for FE students, who get almost nothing compared to what HE students get, be important in achieving the target of 50 per cent of school leavers going on to higher and further education?
  (Sir Howard Newby) I said earlier I do think there are incompatibilities between student funding for FE students and student funding for HE students which, if we are not very careful, could act as an obstacle, particularly insofar as more higher education might be delivered through the FE institutions. That remains to be seen. We know, do we not, that at whatever stage we are talking about in the education process, the drop-out tends to occur when there is some sort of dislocation or disparity when a student needs to move from one institution to another, or moves from one part of the sector to another, and that is when you tend to have a higher drop-out rate, and the more we can make 14 to 19 seamless in terms of not just educational achievement but also in terms of student funding arrangements, frankly, the better.
  (Mr Bekhradnia) Chairman, there is a pilot in progress at the moment—I imagine you may know about it but I think your Committee might benefit from following it up—on educational maintenance allowances for 16-plus students. What I understand is that the experience has been very mixed. In some cases they have been very successful in persuading 16 year olds to stay on, whether in school or FE, and in other cases they stay on but because the money goes to the family and not to them the enthusiasm wanes and there is a fall away. I certainly think it is an area that warrants further examination.

Chairman

  86. What you seem to be suggesting, both of you, is not just a curriculum change, even if that were necessary, but a cultural change. If we are going to have a campaign on something that big, perhaps we should be asking on Wednesday the Minister for Higher Education about whether she should be providing leadership for the campaign to change the culture in the 14 to 18 age group. Something you were quite taken with, if I remember, Professor Newby, was actually giving incentives to universities to go down that sort of path and look for students from poorer postal code areas. I believe the premium that universities receive for a student from those postal code areas is 5 per cent and I know the Committee then recommended a 20 per cent premium. Are you still positive about that? Some of the experience, interestingly enough—and Bahram was talking about educational maintenance allowances not being a magic wand in this situation—is that premiums to FE institutions are not as encouraging as I had hoped.
  (Sir Howard Newby) You are quite right, that is something we wanted to look at and we did initiate a couple of external studies carried out by KPMG to establish what the additional costs of taking in such students and retaining them were, so that we could then adjust the post code premium accordingly. Those reports have just come in and we are now examining them with a view to looking at whether and how far we should adjust the post code premium. It will be upwards, if we were to do so, not downwards, I hasten to say.

  87. Mr Bekhradnia and Professor Newby, thank you very much for coming here. We have over-run our time but just to say to you we hope to be seeing more of you.
  (Sir Howard Newby) Thank you very much.





 
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