Select Committee on Public Accounts Minutes of Evidence



Examination of Witnesses (Questions 240-250)

MR DAVID NORMINGTON CB AND PROFESSOR SIR HOWARD NEWBY CBE

MONDAY 28 JANUARY 2002

  240. Is it above 50 per cent?
  (Professor Sir Howard Newby) I would expect it to be but I do not have the direct information.

  241. You expect it to be above 50 per cent but—
  (Professor Sir Howard Newby) I would expect it to be but I can give the information later.[11]

  242. I think it would be very helpful if we could have a note on that, Chairman, indicating where the various establishments go. I am surprised, in a sense, you do not have that. I want to move on to page 20 and Chart 18. It seems to me here that only 58 per cent provide specialist training for admissions staff, therefore 42 per cent do not have specialist training for admissions staff. Is it just done on tradition then? You come along and check whether or not somebody's dad is in the Masons and, if he is, he gets in? Or is it that he has been at the right school or plays the right sports? Does this mean these people have no training whatsoever?
  (Professor Sir Howard Newby) No, it does not. This is in respect of, first of all, where specialist training for admissions staff is deemed necessary because those institutions are below their benchmark in terms of the pattern of admissions they have on students from poorer backgrounds. In some institutions this is part of their institutional mission, it is actually embedded into the institution and this is one of their main foci.

  243. That must be pretty recent though, because none of them were doing it until recently. We have already agreed they were not seeking to widen the catchment until the Government came along and forced them.
  (Professor Sir Howard Newby) It depends what you mean by "recently", but some institutions have been doing this for some considerable time.

  244. The final question I want to ask you is about interviewing. I take it that it is fair to assume that youngsters like yourselves are going to be much better prepared for a university interview than youngsters from other schools. What evidence is there that that is genuinely taken adequately into account by the institution interviewing them?
  (Professor Sir Howard Newby) I think the first thing I should say is that the vast majority of institutions these days do not use the interview as the major diagnostic test on admissions, because they simply do not have the resources available to interview anything like the majority of applicants who apply to universities.

  245. So they have already weeded out people on the basis of inadequate results, even though, to use your quote, they could have benefited from that course of study?
  (Professor Sir Howard Newby) No, I am saying that that judgment is based for the majority of applicants in most institutions on a paper-based exercise rather than on the basis of an interview.

  246. Which comes back to the question, you weed out a lot of people who could benefit but who will have been adversely affected by their circumstances and perhaps under-achieved?
  (Professor Sir Howard Newby) That is why we have in mind to introduce good practice advice on admissions to universities, and there is a group, jointly with the Department, tailoring that advice.

  247. Only now are you doing a good practice guide.
  (Professor Sir Howard Newby) Yes, because it is only in the recent past we have had the data available which has drawn this problem to our attention.

Chairman

  248. I have a couple of quick questions which colleagues have put in which I must ask on their behalf. Mr Richard Bacon asks about the review of student finance. We appreciate you cannot be exact as to a publication date but you will appreciate this is a matter of great public interest, can you indicate when it is likely to be published? Is it going to be next week, next month, in the next six months? It was promised in the New Year apparently.
  (Mr Normington) It was, and I cannot go beyond saying we hope it will be soon. I cannot say when it is going to be, we have not finished it yet.

  249. It is regrettable that you have no idea. May I also ask this on behalf of Mr David Rendel, you said and repeated that current participation is 41 per cent, you will recall that answer. We had a members' brief which was supplied to us by the National Audit Office, which said, "Improvements have levelled off at a participation rate reported in February 2001 as 44 per cent", and that is apparently taken from oral evidence from the Minister for Higher Education to the Education and Employment Select Committee. You will appreciate these two figures are significantly different. Can I ask you to clear this up or could the Comptroller and Auditor General comment on this? Why is one group of advisers saying 41 per cent and another group saying 44 per cent?
  (Mr Normington) I do not know what the 44 per cent figure is, it may be something different. I would love it to be 44 per cent, of course, but I am afraid it is just over 41 per cent.
  (Sir John Bourn) It is difficult, Chairman, to comment on why there is that difference but I would be very pleased to work with the Permanent Secretary and produce a note on it.

  250. I am very grateful to Mr David Rendel for highlighting that. Professor Newby and Mr Normington, I am afraid you have been in the hot seat now for exactly three hours with injury time. May I thank you very much for answering our questions in a very forthright way, especially as I think you are both new to this Committee.
  (Professor Sir Howard Newby) Yes, we are.

  Chairman: Thank you. We are very grateful to you for the skilful way you have answered our questions.

12 Ev 49, Appendix 1.


 


11   Ev 52, Appendix 2. Back

 
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