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Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. Does he agree that I was referring to this Parliament? Resources will not be increased during the lifetime of this Parliament.
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the first tranche will come into effect in the autumn of this year. I do not know whether that will take place in this Parliament or the next. I merely testify to the fact that all resources are hard won from the Treasury--my noble friend attested to that--but, nevertheless, they are now in place.
The noble Earl, Lord Russell, raised a number of points, not least the fact that remuneration levels for teachers in higher education are such that it is possible that schools might raid higher education institutions for their qualified staff. I do not think that the noble Earl quoted from a government agency with regard to recruitment, but rather from a private agency. Of course we would not condone a situation in which schools raided universities if they were short of qualified staff. Nevertheless, we all recognise that a free market obtains. If a private organisation thinks that it can entice people away from the delights of higher education into the different delights of the school classroom, then that is for individuals to judge.
Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, does the noble Lord accept that the starting pay of a teacher in a primary school, after studying for a three-year degree and gaining postgraduate experience, is now higher than that of someone starting as a young, temporary lecturer in a university? Starting pay at the age of 26 or 27 is around £18,000 a year.
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I do not think that I should enter a debate on relative levels of pay when we are debating the question of bureaucracy as it affects higher education. However, perhaps I may say that I would not in any way condemn the enhanced position of primary school teachers. I believe that that development is long overdue. As the noble Earl, Lord Russell, mentioned, if we are going to discuss this matter in terms of the philosophy of Jean-Jacques
Of course we recognise that there is a problem in higher education pay. That is why specific resources have been identified to address the matter. However, that does not meet the contention put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch; namely, that the Government should in some way suspend the negotiating position of employers in higher education and implement £380 million in one year, a demand which I believe many would regard as, if not unrealistic, at least far beyond the bounds of the imagination of the previous administration. Our steps towards enhancing pay in higher education are admittedly limited, but they have identified specific sums of money--hard won from the Treasury, as I have said--in the public spending round, to be directed towards tackling this important issue.
However, that is not the issue primarily addressed in our debate. We are discussing the burden of bureaucracy in higher education. The Government are alive to the concerns over unnecessary bureaucracy being imposed on our universities. Following the publication of a report on the accountability burden in higher education by the English Funding Council in August 2000, a forum has been established to see how we can achieve a reduction in that bureaucracy. The forum's membership includes representatives of the relevant government departments, HE institutions, the Quality Assurance Agency, the funding councils and the research councils.
A number of practical methods and tools have been identified, such as enhanced arrangements for collecting and sharing student information, leading to an integrated student information system for the whole sector. The English Funding Council has already altered and streamlined its own bidding processes, using conditional grants. I believe that the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, identified the issue of wasteful bidding. That point has been taken. The method of using conditional grants means that HE institutions will know where they stand as regards their funding and thus avoid bureaucratic and wasteful bidding arrangements. Those have been wasteful of both time and resources, as well as introducing a measure of unpredictability. Good practice guidance for all parties is being sponsored by the funding council with encouragement from the Treasury and from the National Audit Office, along with the support of the Better Regulation Unit in the Cabinet Office.
But the greatest concerns expressed in our debate have turned on the burden on universities and colleges of the reviews to be carried out by the Quality Assurance Agency on the standards of teaching. I understand the comments made by my noble friend Lord Longford as regards the value of the tutorial system. We know of its glories in the older universities. However, perhaps I may say to my noble friend that,
In the course of her remarks, the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, identified another matter in this regard, one that has occasioned significant change in the nature of the process of higher education. It is a fact that it would be extraordinarily short-sighted of us not to see the potential advantages of new technology in enhancing university education. Technology is already employed in a whole range of subjects because it offers opportunities to achieve more effective teaching. By that I do not intend to imply that I am concerned solely with the economics of teaching, but rather that resources saved in certain areas of teaching can then be made available to reinforce those areas which are perhaps more deserving of staff time.
I shall return to the matter of the Quality Assurance Agency. There is no doubt that the system in place during most of the 1990s was excessively bureaucratic. I believe the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, was generous enough to indicate that the system was not created in May 1997, but that it was inherited by the present administration. On taking office, we said that systems should be put in place to ensure a good standard of education for students, but with the minimum of bureaucracy. Over the past few years, the Quality Assurance Agency has consulted widely on a new, streamlined, single system of academic review. The system would rely heavily on self-evaluations by institutions and would draw on the documentation already in use by institutions for their own internal quality assurance processes. It would take account of the previous track record to determine the intensity of review activity, thus ensuring that intervention will be in inverse proportion to success. That is a principle to which I believe we should all subscribe.
The Quality Assurance Agency is determined to schedule reviews to coincide with the needs and preferences of institutions and of all the professional bodies which will be accrediting courses in universities. This has involved a substantial degree of consultation across the sector, a point to which my noble friend Lady Warwick referred.
The new method of assessment is in place; it began in Scotland last autumn. My noble friend the Minister of State made clear on a number of occasions that we would be watching closely how the new system developed in Scotland to ensure that the twin objectives that I mentioned earlier--robust assessment along with streamlined processes--come about.
There are already encouraging signs that the changes will reap the desired benefits. Much less information is required for the QAA reviewers to pore over. The use of e-mail and electronic documents is being encouraged and, because the time spent in institutions by reviewers is much less, the much parodied "base room", which has come in for so much
We were aware, however, that there continued to be a major debate in the sector as to whether the burden, albeit lighter, was still too much. In the responses that we have had it has been quite clear that university departments--particularly those institutions which did not always have the highest status in the sector--may want the opportunity to demonstrate their excellence. Therefore, although the lighter touch enables departments which have reached the required standard not to be subject to the process, we are still leaving open the possibility that a new head--who perhaps wants to establish the worth of his department--may, if he or she so wishes, submit to the process.
Otherwise, we are reducing significantly the weight of work on individual departments. In other words, the Government have concluded that the arguments for a reduction in bureaucracy are compelling. That is why the Secretary of State invited the English Funding Council to discuss with the Quality Assurance Agency and the representative bodies of the universities ways of reducing the load still further. He has paid tribute to the work that has been done by the Quality Assurance Agency and he has ensured that change will take place.
The Government are setting out to make sure that in the future we can look forward to the average length of reviews being reduced by both the funding council and the QAA. The aim is to secure a reduction of 40 per cent or even more in the volume of review activity compared with existing arrangements. This was part of the announcement made today.
We believe that the new arrangements will ensure that high quality provision continues to be identified and that improvements are made while, at the same time, freeing departments of established high quality from the burden of assessment. This is not an elitist approach or one that will work only in the interests of certain universities. High quality departments exist throughout our diverse higher education system. They will all have the opportunity to benefit from the lighter touch where quality is already clearly identified and can be guaranteed.
We are confident that the invitation to the funding council, Universities UK and SCOP to pursue their discussions, coupled with the changes already in the pipeline, will result in significantly reducing the bureaucratic burden.
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