Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80
THURSDAY 11 JANUARY 2001
80. Can I ask you what percent. of your students
(Professor Wright) Of our full-time students, I mentioned
11,000, we have about 5,500 part-time students, who, by definition,
mostly are local; of our other 5,500 full-time, round about half
come from Kent and half from elsewhere.
Mr St. Aubyn
81. Ms Urwin, you wanted to add something there,
if it is still in your mind?
(Ms Urwin) In terms of our recruitment, 60 per cent
is regional, sub-regional, within the West Midlands. I just wanted
to add that, in relation to our students, in addition to what
Michael has said, we do do a three-year follow-up survey with
all graduates, to find out what they are doing formally, three
years after graduation, and so we keep that as a databank.
82. Both of you exercised the vocational slant,
if you like, of a lot of the courses that your students were on;
are the students who come up to you, with what they think are
vocational leanings, but become much more interested perhaps in
the theoretical academic aspects of the work, if that happens,
how easy is it for them to transfer, as it were, seamlessly, to
either more courses on campus or perhaps to other institutions
in your neighbourhood, the university up the road, perhaps, who
provide a more academic slant in the same field of study?
(Ms Urwin) If you take ours, to start with, take teacher
education, for example, the way the programme is structured, they
get a very early placement in a school, so that they get some
hands-on experience straightaway; they should all come having
had experience working with children, in one way or another, so
they should be pretty well informed. But once they have gone out
into the school for their first placement there are a number who
will always come back and say, "Teaching is not for me."
And, the way that the programmes are structured in the first year,
they can transfer easily and without loss of time to other programmes;
and it is not unknown for one or two to transfer, as you say,
to the very large university up the road.
83. I asked that because, in Surrey, actually
we are going to Guildford, my constituency, next week, to hear
about this more first-hand, we have seen a sort of umbrella created
by Surrey University, which now takes in, for instance, the Roehampton
Institute, so that whole process can be handled within one university.
In the course of time, do you see colleges like yourselves, while
retaining your distinctive identity as a college, being part of
a bigger university in your particular locality, and would there
be benefits to you that you can see deriving from that?
(Professor Wright) The answer is no. I believe that
Canterbury Christ Church is a large institution in its own right,
and I think that we can offer a sufficient variety so that students
can find an outlet which is appropriate for them in the college.
Can I just come back on your comment about vocational and professional,
because, I think, from my point of view, and perhaps Dorma's is
the same, we may have allowed the impression to develop that this
is slightly sharper than it all is. Being educated to be a teacher,
or a nurse, or an occupational therapist, is not an unintellectual
exercise, it is not an unacademic exercise; very much so, those
preparing to be teachers, or nurses, or whatever, are engaged
in an academic programme. It is simply that it has, as part of
its very specific outputs, a career. So I think the sense in which
people perhaps come in and find they are not being challenged
would be completely at odds with the truth.
84. No, I was not suggesting that for a moment.
My wife, in fact, has trained as a teacher herself, so I understand
this. But I just wondered, you will get those who find that actually
being in the classroom is not for them, but they are still interested
in the area and they find there is scope for them in the field
of academic study?
(Professor Wright) In Canterbury, there are the same
kinds of routes out, as it were; but, I have to say, they are
taken by relatively few students. And I go back to my answer that
I think it is because they know what they are coming to when they
choose to come and train to be a teacher, or a nurse, or whatever.
85. I do not know if anyone wants to comment
on the issue of becoming part of the big university up the road?
(Ms Urwin) I thought you were going to walk away from
that. We are part of what is called the West Midlands Higher Education
Association, which is an association which brings together all
the Vice-Chancellors and Principals in the West Midlands, and
regional co-operation and regional collaboration are very much
on the agenda; as you know, the Funding Council is promoting it
very strongly and is making funding available to support that.
So we have developed a number of collaborative links with universities
in the West Midlands, largely at post-graduate level, I have to
say, but I would not rule out the possibility of further collaboration
at undergraduate level, but within a framework which recognises
that Worcester is a distinct, separate, independent entity.
86. We are coming towards the end of the session,
and Professor Yorke has been very patient; he is one of the leading
experts on this issue of retention. And, Professor Yorke, can
I ask you, you have listened to what our two guests have said
regarding their colleges, since they are different from many of
the universities we are looking at, different in the sense that
they are highly successful at retaining their students, are there
lessons that the rest of the sector could learn from their example;
what is it that they are doing that we are not transposing across
the piece to other universities who have more difficulty with
(Professor Yorke) I think it is not quite as clear-cut
as that, because I think there are a number of institutions in
the university sector which are being very successful; you have
only to look at the performance indicators to see that. I think
that they put their finger on it, very much, when they talked
about the way in which they bring the students in to the institution.
One of the things I remember, way back in the late eighties, when
the inspectors were still in operation, was that one of their
concerns was, very much, when we went modular in our institution,
where is the academic home for the student, does the student feel
they belong somewhere, or not; and we had to be very sure that
we provided that kind of arrangement for students so they did
not get lost in the modularity. Now I think that, probably, the
smaller institutions and the colleges generally have a greater
sense of development of that notion of academic home than others;
that is a guess rather than a piece of empirical knowledge. But
I think it is all of a piece with the importance that I was stressing
on the first year experience as being the key, and the need to
make sure that if one has limited resources I would disproportionate
them in favour of that first year experience because of its crucial
87. Interesting you mention the whole notion
of home. We all went to the United States to look at some of their
higher education institutions, and, of course, one of the things
you found at Stanford and at a range of other institutions was
that there was a demand from students to get back to smaller class
teaching; you know, these great big classes, in the early years,
with 500, 600 students, and all the university administrations
were recognising this and fighting back, even these élite
institutions with a lot of resources, to get back to that, closer
to identification with smaller groups. I wonder what our other
guests today feel about that?
(Professor Yorke) Could I respond to that, Chairman?
88. Yes. Professor Yorke?
(Professor Yorke) Because there is a small piece of
evidence, and it is only small, but it is Vincent Tinto again,
whom I mentioned earlier, and he did a study in Seattle Community
College, which, at the time, I think, was heavily modular and
inferentially did not have the kind of homeness about it. And
while he was working with them they changed the programmes and
they became much more coherent, route-oriented, and so on, so
that the students had more of an academic home. And he found a
whole lot more success with the students when that régime
was in operation as compared with the previous one, suggesting
that the notion of academic home does begin to pay off.
89. I think that is something that the Committee
will very much take to heart. I gave the opportunity to Professor
Yorke to be Secretary of State for a couple of minutes. Ms Urwin
and Professor Wright, how about you? If you look at the other
institutions that we have been talking about, and we are covering
the whole of HE, what do you think they are doing wrong; if you
were the Secretary of State, where would you put your emphasis,
where are your priorities? It is £200 million we are losing,
£200 million that you can spend on higher education, if you
can save that money. What would you do, what would you advise
the Secretary of State to do?
(Ms Urwin) Assuming that the agenda is to widen access
and increase participation then I would advise much better information
for potential students; because I believe that many potential
students are being put off because they simply do not know that
a third of our students do not pay tuition fees, for example,
they assume they are going to have to. So I think better information
for potential students, so they understand what it is they would
be taking on, and, I have to say, I would favour a Cubie type
model for student funding, student support. And I would say to
the institutions that
90. You do mean a Cubie, not the one that the
Scottish Executive actually adopted?
(Ms Urwin) I meant Cubie, but I think I could live
with the Scottish model.
(Professor Wright) I think, if Dorma means by that
we would favour, and this is not on behalf of my college, this
is a more general view than that, I do believe that finding a
way of removing the up-front cost of higher education and moving
it towards more of a deferred contribution model would be the
thing that I would examine most seriously.
91. So do you think that, for example, paying
back 9 per cent when you get a £10,000 salary is too early
and too much?
(Professor Wright) I think that, almost certainly,
too early and too much.
92. Would you also support the idea that the
preferential loans which are available should be extended, so
that they will be a larger amount of money that students could
then pay back at the end of the course, rather than having to
worry about working while they were doing their courses?
(Professor Wright) Clearly, making available preferential
loans is better than not having loans, but I would still take
the view that it is better not to have loans; because, as I mention
in my brief note to you, the perception of debt, I do believe,
is significant amongst those we are seeking to attract. And we
do not know this, we simply do not know who does not come because
of this, but I do have this feeling that it is that perception
which is quite significant. To put it another way, as I tried
to say earlier, I believe finance is a very relevant issue, more
for students who do not come than for those who do.
93. Are you not surprised though, Professor
Yorke, you said that there has not been much research, apart from
your research, done on this, and here we have 100 plus leading
universities in this country, a large number of very good higher
education institutions, would you not have thought that actually
they would have instituted their own research to find out why
people did not stay on to complete their degrees? Is there not
research there that shows perhaps it is debt, perhaps it is the
rotten accommodation they had to live in, in their first year,
perhaps they were just homesick?
(Professor Yorke) Some institutions do do this. When
I made that comment, I was referring to the
94. Published research?
(Professor Yorke) (A) published, but also (b) the
substance and size of the survey; the stuff that I did was considerably
bigger than any individual institution could do, so it was that
mass thing. The problem with lots of little things is, it is very
difficult to add the bits together; you can see straws blowing
in the wind but they are blowing in a fairly approximate direction.
There is nothing that I have seen, from the stuff that has come
from institutions, that would lead me to alter the view that I
produced from the results that I got.
95. But Evan Harris, earlier, asked you about
students seeing themselves more as consumers; surely, if universities
do have these concerns, do have these students who come and try
out a product and then walk away and say, "This isn't for
me," most institutions, for goodness sake, most retailers,
would do in-depth research to find out why they were unsuccessful
in retaining the customer. Could you point out to us institutions
that have done that sort of in-depth research?
(Professor Yorke) Many institutions do do research
that relates to that, and they would do student satisfaction surveys,
and things like that, which begin to touch into the issues. The
bit that I think often is missing is that the student satisfaction
stuff is not hooked into the retention stuff, so that it is not
joined up enough, so you cannot actually develop the causality
in the way that really you would like; and that, I think, is the
bigger problem, institutionally. But there is considerable potential
within institutions for making those connections, and that would
be helpful for internal policy-making.
Chairman: That is an excellent point.
96. We have been offering you the opportunity
to play adviser to the Secretary of State on a whole range of
retention issues, but, of course, on a day-to-day basis, HEFCE
is a very important player, both in terms of its performance indicators
and also in terms of its funding priorities. And I would like
to ask all of you, very briefly, therefore, are there things about
the HEFCE performance indicators which could be changed which
would improve our knowledge of what we needed to do to increase
the completion rates, and are there things about HEFCE's funding
priorities that need to be changed to minimise those non-completion
(Professor Wright) I think the HEFCE information is,
of course, still relatively new, I think we are all assessing
the implications of it; obviously, we are pleased if it looks
as though we come out rather well, but we are not complacent about
that. So I think it is rather early to comment on that.
97. Is there anything at the moment which sticks
out, to you, they are really not addressing that; for example,
let me give you an example, different completion rates between
different ethnic minorities, or different completion rates between
different types of subject?
(Professor Wright) I do not think I feel able to comment
on that, without some further thought.
98. What about the funding priorities?
(Professor Wright) I think there is a general concern
in the colleges, and perhaps in some of the universities, that
the efforts of some institutions to take the issues you are talking
about very seriously appear to be being underrewarded.
99. Dorma, you have been closely involved with
various bits of HEFCE, over the years; maybe I am asking you a
difficult question here, but perhaps you would like to respond?
(Ms Urwin) I think it should be noted that I am a
member of the HEFCE Board, so obviously I do have some knowledge
and information. I think I would agree with Michael, that there
are many institutions in the sector, universities and colleges,
which have taken widening participation and access very seriously,
and also I would point specifically to taking students with disabilities
seriously as well. And I think there is a general perception