Examination of Witness (Questions 120
MONDAY 10 DECEMBER 2001
120. How about the longer term? When you first
mentioned income I assumed you were talking about their life income,
you meant their income as a student.
(Professor Rees) Yes.
121. What about long-term, their marketability,
the jobs they might be eligible for, the quality of the institution,
whether the degree is highly regarded?
(Professor Rees) There are no guarantees on income
and, of course, income attached to particular walks of life are
variable across the United Kingdom depending on local labour markets
to a certain extent for graduate professions. I think any kind
of information on that could only be indicative. It would be a
pity, in a sense, if courses were marketed principally or purely
on the anticipated remuneration of occupations linked with that
particular degree subject. We do find that many employers are
interested in recruiting graduates because they are graduates,
not particularly because of the particular subject that they have
studied. I would want to see a freedom of choice in subject and
in institution in terms of intellectual curiosity because students
who are intellectually driven by the subject they have chosen
do much better than those who are doing it to get a certificate.
I would just like to see open choice on that with as much information
available as possible on income, what it would be like to study
at that institution, what the support mechanisms are and so on.
122. You seem to be calling for rationality
as far as the next three years is concerned but not too worried
about a lack of economic rationality, if you like, subsequently.
One of the things that I think worries a lot of students is, okay,
it is good to go to university but is it good to go to this university
to do this course or is this, frankly, a bit undervalued by employers,
(Professor Rees) I am not sure that I have got anything
helpful particularly to say on that. It does seem to me that labour
markets can change very quickly. The sorts of skills that are
in demand can change over time. The sorts of generic skills and
employability that hopefully all graduates end up having are very
marketable in themselves, but the notion of a very planned higher
education system with rationing, if you like, or sweeteners for
some courses rather than others can lead to all kinds of difficulties.
We saw this, I think, when teacher training courses in England
offered a golden hello. People who wanted to train to be teachers
from Wales who had signed up to be trained in Wales did not get
such a golden hello because there was no problem recruiting teachers
in Wales and the very next year, of course, all these Welsh based
potential teacher trainees went to England and the Welsh institutions
immediately overnight had a very deep recruitment problem. In
a devolved constitution, as we have at the moment, if you start
tinkering with sweeteners and subsidies or whatever on an individual
course basis you can really do quite difficult things to the market.
123. That was going to be my last question but
I have just one more. You have reminded me of a question I was
going to ask. It is one thing to talk about devolved from institution
to institution and course to course, but do you think it is right
that English students should be discriminated against in Scotland?
(Professor Rees) It depends what you mean by discrimination.
It does seem to me that the United Kingdom ought to have some
aspects of the funding system that are coherent so that any student
from any part of the United Kingdom can study in any other part
of the United Kingdom without benefit or hindrance, if you like.
124. You looked quite closely presumably at
the Scottish experiment?
(Professor Rees) Yes.
125. What was your evaluation of that?
(Professor Rees) In Scotland they are mostly four
year courses because their first year is similar to the A levels
and there are far more students living at home, it is quite different
in that regard from the rest of the United Kingdom. I think my
own investigation group had a lot of sympathy with the recommendations
of the Cubie Report and we think they would have worked better
had the Scottish Parliament implemented more of them than they
126. Similarly with Dearing?
(Professor Rees) Yes. Dearing got it right.
(Professor Rees) Dearing got it right, or a lot of
128. So the thrust of your report was taking
us back to Dearing?
(Professor Rees) We looked very carefully obviously
at everybody's recommendations in this area and we thought if
more of the Dearing recommendations had been implemented then
we would not have so many of the difficulties that we really do
have in the system today, and I must emphasise on the basis of
nine independent hearings, three Chatham House seminars and 1,500
organisations and individuals that we took evidence on, the system
is not working.
129. My first very quick question goes back
to the ground David was covering. We have got 32 per cent roughly
going into higher education now and the Prime Minister is aiming
for 50 per cent, by and large we have got all the people we are
going to get from the socio-economic group we call the middle
class, they always took 70 per cent of university places anyway,
if you are going to expand from 32 per cent of the nation to 50
the only area you can get that from is from the working class,
the poorer end. Is that the way you can argue that there is clear
evidence that the current financial system is a deterrent to the
expansion up to 50 per cent because it would affect that audience
which traditionally was not going to university but it is the
only place the Government can go to expand to 50 per cent?
(Professor Rees) Yes, absolutely. The evidence that
we have from existing FE students who had been considering going
to HE very clearly expressed concern about not being able to afford
to do it. We have personal testimonies from people in further
education who had been doing very well, who had made that big
leap back into further education, the really tricky one, and doing
really well in their FE college but said "my family has been
suffering while I have been trying to manage this part-time FE
with having a job and running a home" and they would love
to go on to higher education but would not put their family through
it. That is where we are losing people who could potentially go
130. We have had the very detailed Cubie Report
in Scotland with lots of excellent recommendations, now we have
the detailed Rees Report with lots of excellent recommendations,
the Government are now looking again at what they are doing, are
they calling you in as expert witnesses or are they re-inventing
(Professor Rees) The Minister for Education and Lifelong
Learning at the National Assembly for Wales, Jane Davidson, has
had several discussions with Estelle Morris on these issues. She
has made the point that this report is evidence-based, it is research-based
policy, it is a group which collected an awful lot of research
and commissioned some research and some statistical analyses,
collected evidence from employers, families, parents, training
providers, trade unions, local businessmen, who reported a decline
in their income in bar takingsa very great concern for
a small placeand letting agents who talked of the difficulty
they were having now that students were not able to afford the
sort of rents they wanted to charge. We heard from so many people
and have analysed that, so this is not just the opinion of nine
people, this is evidence-based research and as a result it is
very difficult to argue with it. The recommendations are rooted
131. A final question from a slightly different
angle, where can you see changes in the benefit system which might
affect all this? For example, when I was a student in the 1970s
you could still claim benefits in the vacation, indeed the room
I signed on in was the one used in The Full Monty in Sheffield.
Is there any scope for bringing the benefits system back into
(Professor Rees) I am not sure it is appropriate to
think of it in terms of benefits. I mentioned earlier on there
is a terrible difficulty in the interface between student support
systems and the benefit systems, particularly surrounding the
needs of disabled students. There are real clashes, if you like,
in terms of regulations, that very badly need to be sorted out
to enable disabled students to progress. I mentioned earlier that
60 per cent of access and hardship funds are spent by students
on child care and transport, and that seems to me wholly inappropriate.
We need to have strategic approaches to accommodate the transport
and child care needs of people who are learners in further education
or higher education. It really should not be terribly difficult
to identify their particular needs and work them into local transport
planning systems and so on. If you were to take those out, that
60 per cent, from what is currently spent on access and hardship,
so it is gone, "saved", if you like, then there is a
possibility of looking at the interface between student support
and benefit systems for crises and emergencies. There are particular
groups of students who appear to have nowhere to go and we have
identified this in the report. Children of foreign-born adults,
for example, in some cases over here on a temporary basis, who
are not eligible for anything. There are other particular small
categories who seem to slip through the net.
132. What about an area like housing benefit,
given that students renting in the private sector normally have
to sign on for the whole 52 weeks of the year and not just for
the 30 weeks of term time?
(Professor Rees) The housing situation for students
is very alarming. It is quite clear there are some very unscrupulous
individuals taking advantage of students' naivety in terms of
signing pieces of paper which they then learn has meant they have
promised to do all sorts of things like signing for 52 weeks when
they thought they were only signing for the term time. I think
that whole area of housing for students needs to be monitored
and policed much better than it is, and probably much better regulated
as well. That would certainly help in terms of hardship for a
number of students who have been caught out by unscrupulous landlords
at the moment.
133. So overall, if your recommendations were
taken on by the Government, what are the cost implications?
(Professor Rees) It would mean investing more money
in student support, that is for sure, but on the other hand if
we had child care and transport strategies that were really effective,
that would save money, if you like, for the student support bill.
There would be a lot of savings in terms of the existing higher
education student support services which spend a lot of time duplicating
means testing that is already done by the local authority in some
instances for tuition fees, a whole lot of bureaucracy around
the administration of all of these systems, that would all be
saved. So it is not simply expenditure, we are wasting a lot of
money on administering a very cumbersome system at the moment.
So certainly in our recommendations we went to try to reduce a
lot of that bureaucracy and make clean, simple, transparent systems
which everyone would be aware of up-front. It would cost more,
for sure. We said that to cover all of the recommendations in
Wales would be £58 million. The Minister in the National
Assembly for Wales has doubled the budget for student support
for this financial year and intends to add another £20 million
for the next academic year, so she is moving towards trying to
meet what the bill will be. The difficulty for the National Assembly
for Wales, of course, is that it does not have the power to introduce
learning maintenance bursaries and financial contingency funds
in higher education, but it can in further education and is giving
serious consideration to this. But, in my own view, it would be
much neater if in terms of student support there was a UK system
134. We are steadily moving to the conclusion
of this session and thank you for your patience. Just two last
questions. The IPPR came out with a report a week ago today with
some rather different recommendations from your own, and I wonder
if you had sight of that or if you had any views on it.
(Professor Rees) Unfortunately I was in Ireland last
week so I have not yet seen the IPPR Report.
135. One of the strong recommendations, or one
of the concerns certainly, was that the method of offering loans
at reduced rates, which I think you have touched on, is a very
regressive policy; it offers loans, as you said, to people who
can afford market rates. Did you work out the cost implications
of that for Wales?
(Professor Rees) No, it is quite difficult to disaggregate
because do you just look at students resident in Wales at Welsh
institutions, do you look at students who are from Wales in institutions
elsewhere, or students just at institutions in Wales. It would
be very difficult to disaggregate just for Wales. It is clear
that there is some waste of publicly subsidised resources in the
system which is currently used, and it is not being accessed by
students who would benefit from it but who are debt averse.
136. Did you take any evidence from Nick Barr
from the London School of Economics?
(Professor Rees) Yes.
137. Did you look at our two HE inquiries of
(Professor Rees) Yes, we did.
138. That is a blessed relief, that someone
did! My last question is, the Minister for Higher Education will
be sitting in your seat on Wednesday morning. What do you think
we should ask her?
(Professor Rees) I think it would be good to ask her
how she might meet the challenge of some of the problems which
have been identified in Cubie and in our own reportproblems
which really cannot be sustainedand whether she would be
of the view that the recommendations we have put forward would
in fact be the best way forward for the UK.
139. Were you disappointed there was very little
mention, if any, of education in the Chancellor's Autumn Statement?
(Professor Rees) Yes, of course.
140. Thank you very much for your attendance.
(Professor Rees) Thank you.