Examination of witnesses (Questions 420
WEDNESDAY 31 JANUARY 2001
BEKHRADNIA and MR
420. Given that that is the case would there
not be some benefit in your doing some in-depth pilot studies
of those universities, and I am thinking particularly of some
of the newer universities, who have a substantial number of students
who fall into that category?
(Mr Thompson) Absolutely. One of the things that has
happened, apart from the things that we have picked up, is that
it has taken a little time for institutions to learn from what
we have published.
421. So when are you going to do it?
(Mr Thompson) We are talking to institutions. I am
going to visit an institution in a few weeks. One of the things
we are going to raise is whether they can make a start with that
kind of classification (of part-time) at the institutional level,
and understand what is going on in terms of completion. In other
words identify the students who do not intend to get a qualification;
that just want to do this or that module. This kind of classification
will, if you like, provide a pilot. Then we can get other institutions
to do it, and also maybe eventually collect data nationally.
422. This Committee has a reputation for asking
you to do even further pieces of research. Are you constrained
by resources? Do you need extra resources from the Department
in order to carry out meaningful work in these areas?
(Mr Bekhradnia) We have the resources that we need
to do the job we are doing at the moment. We would need more resources
to do more things. Otherwise we have to prioritise what we are
423. Can I come back to the point I started
with and the point that Charlotte touched on, which was the relationship
between support and development and between student completion.
Charlotte in her questioning, and indeed we have heard evidence
across the board on this, suggested (and there have been suggestions)
that because of the emphasis in universities on research and the
balance of rewards for research as opposed to teaching and particularly
in relation to what one might loosely call pastoral care, students
have suffered in this respect, and to that extent HEFCE might
be regarded as responsible because of the fact that you have put
more and more significance on, for example, research assessment
exercise in terms of delivery. How would you answer that criticism?
(Mr Bekhradnia) I do not know what evidence there
is for it being so. I know what evidence there is for the research
424. We have been to Surrey University only
two weeks ago and to Kingston University and they said that this
was a very serious problem.
(Mr Bekhradnia) Yes, but what is the relationship
between the staff development effort, for example, and drop-out?
I just do not know what evidence you would point to for that.
425. You have got good practice. You already
know in terms of your indicators where good practice is. What
seems to me a barrier is spreading that best practice as quickly
(Mr Bekhradnia) That is what I said that we were doing.
We have a team out looking at those institutions that are doing
particularly well and trying to identify what it is they do well.
It might be that staff development is what they are doing well
or it could be that some of their student support arrangements
are what they are doing differently. This comes out of the Mantz
Yorke study and some of the other evidence we have seen: it could
be that it is what they do with students before they join them
that is important. We do not know. What I am saying is that until
we have the evidence we will be very foolish to tell the universities
what they should be doing and what we think they should be doing
because we just do not know yet.
426. All right, but that is where we are coming
to the interface between HEFCE as a funder and HEFCE as an analyser.
Let me posit a case of a bright young socially conscious, socially
aware, academically perhaps one of our newer universities, which
wants to put a lot of emphasis into outreach work, wants to do
conferences with children of 13 or 14, not coming from traditional
backgrounds. What incentive is there within the system for him
or her to spend time on that activity when they know only too
well (and the pressure is on the newer universities; it is not
just the older ones) that the gold standard for their development
in their career and as far as their departments are concerned
is piling up books and articles for your research assessment exercise?
(Mr Bekhradnia) If that is the case that is the decision
of the university and the department. We cannot manage the universities
in that sort of detail
427. But your funding mechanism, and I come
back to the point, does not give any incentive to that sort of
outreach activity, does it?
(Mr Bekhradnia) In the sense of what, that we do not
recognise quality, for example, in the funding of teaching?
428. No. You said yourself that that getting
students involved at an earlier stage might be a key element to
it. Is there anything in the way in which you are currently conducting
your funding that would specifically recognise that sort of activity?
(Mr Bekhradnia) We provide at the moment about £30
million a year through the formula in respect of part-time and
mature students and £30 million a year in respect of students
from poor backgrounds. That goes disproportionately to those institutions
which do precisely the sort of thing that you have described.
How it is used internally in terms of rewards for staff I really
think cannot be something that HEFCE gets involved in.
429. I have got a note here from our specialist
advisers that says that the Secretary of State has allocated £50
million in 2001/2002, £10 million in 2002/2003, £170
million in 2003/2004 to be used in part to recruit and retain
high quality academic staff in strategically important disciplines.
That is going to be in research rich institutions and is going
to be for people with long lists of publications. It is not going
to be for teachers surely.
(Mr Bekhradnia) No. The mechanism for distributing
that money is not biased towards the research rich.
430. I am sorry to press this point, but you
raised yourself (and you may wish you had not) the whole issue
of outreach and I just want to get this on the record. You have
no mechanism in HEFCE at the moment for specifically rewarding
academics or institutions that go in for pre-university admission
(Mr Bekhradnia) To the extent that they are successful
we do because those will be the institutions that gain the most
through those aspects of the formula that recognise that. That
is in respect of the students from the poorer backgrounds, for
example, that you were talking about. There is an element of the
formula that recognises that.
431. It is only five per cent, is it not?
(Mr Bekhradnia) It is five per cent in terms of students
from poor backgrounds and five per cent in respect of mature students.
432. Your prospective Chairman is quite keen
to raise that substantially, is he not?
(Mr Bekhradnia) I have no doubt that as Chairman of
the HEFCE board he will carry the appropriate influence on that.
The trouble with that is that working with a fixed pot it is five
per cent and it could be ten per cent, it could be 15 per cent,
but it would be at the expense of something else unless the Secretary
of State could be persuaded to give us more money which we would
use in that way.
433. How much would it cost to put it up to
ten or 20 per cent? What does the five per cent cost?
(Mr Bekhradnia) The five per cent costs about £30
million or so; it would cost about another £30 million.
(Mr Thompson) Can I just say something about the outreach?
We have had discussions about this with our conference and vice-chancellors
are pointing out that some of the really important work does not
necessarily, if you are talking about younger schoolchildren,
bring recruits to that particular institution. It is difficult
to have a formula which recognises this work. However, there are
special schemes. We have made quite clear that in the outline
of what they are doing, and their plans, we want institutions
to put targets on this kind of activity. We recognise that with
some of them they have to be input targets because you cannot
easily trace the result of visiting, say, a junior school or even
in the early parts of secondary school. There are things going
on to encourage and support, that are not the kind of activities
that necessarily lend themselves to a formula for funding.
434. What Gordon I think is pushing at, and
Charlotte and all of us on this Committee are impressed by in
the United States, is that they have the wherewithal to do this
work well. Much of it is a managerial function; it is not an academic
function. It is the ability to put quality management time into
outreach, into high quality admissions procedures, indeed, in
terms of linking your alumni into various activities that could
help in that. It is a whole area within the United States. Yes,
we know that alumni contributions help to fund that, but here,
with the different system of funding, it seems that that is an
under-nourished part of the university activity.
(Mr Bekhradnia) But nevertheless it would be, would
it not, a choice of the university itself to put the level of
resources into that? I wonder what it is that persuades universities
in the States to do it to the extent that they do.
435. Can I suggest that one of the reasons they
do it is that they are much more linked into their local communities
than most of our universities are, except in places like Staffordshire
University that does an extremely good job in that respect. So
many of our universities are so detached from their communities,
whereas in the States they put a much higher premium on being
involved in their communities.
(Mr Bekhradnia) I believe there are a lot of universities
like Staffordshire. Staffordshire is an excellent model, I agree,
but there are others in this country. Community involvement is
certainly something that we are trying to encourage very much,
and we are finding that we are very much pushing at an open door
in that respect. Just for clarity, I was very grateful to Gordon
Marsden for taking the discussion into the area of outreach. When
I referred to pre-entry activity I was referring to the evidence
that came through from the Mantz Yorke study and has come through
from some other work that I have seen, that suggests that one
of the reasons for drop-out relates to the mismatch of expectations
between what students are going to get and what they thought they
were going to get. It could beand I am just speculating
herethat one of the things that those universities that
have lower drop-out are rather better at is getting a good sense
of what to expect amongst prospective students and not getting
students to come believing false things.
436. Is it difficult to get that? Some universities
take an awful lot of students out of the clearing process so it
is all a bit last minute.
(Mr Bekhradnia) I do not know.
437. Is that not a problem?
(Mr Bekhradnia) I do not know about clearing and drop-out.
(Mr Thompson) There is no hard evidence yet. If people
go through the clearing in a hurry, you may think potentially
the kind of thing that one is talking about is going to be much
more difficult to achieve. We can ask whether that shows up in
a like-for-like comparison of those who go through the clearing
with those who do not, taking account of the other things which
would obscure the comparison. this is exactly the kind of question
that we would hope to answer fairly soon.
438. I want to return to the issue we discussed
earlier in our session when we looked at student finances while
it is still fresh in my mind. You in your submission pointed out
that there is a link between non-completion and social class.
Social class one has a non-completion rate of five per cent and
for classes four and five it is nine per cent. You then go on
to show that for bright students, three B's and above, there is
protection against that factor, that there is very little difference.
Therefore those discrepancies are concentrated in people with
less than three B's. I put it to you that the people we are trying
to encourage in to higher education are particularly at the lower
end. What sort of reason do you think it is that for people with
generally less than three B's (excluding the bright people who
will find their way anyway) there is nearly double the drop-out
rate for classes four and five compared with class one?
(Mr Bekhradnia) I am not sure that we explained clearly
enough what we thought we were illustrating in those tables. What
we were doing there was to show that although there was an apparent
relationship between social class and therefore, loosely, wealth
or lack of it and drop-out, when analysed differently it looked
as if the relationship was actually between A-level points score
and drop-out, that the social class effect seemed to disappear
when you held steady for A-level points score. That was given
as an example at the top end, but if you repeated that example
with lower A-level points scoreI do not know if we have
done the analysisthe hypothesis is that you would find
the same result as with other point scores.
439. So despite the smaller proportion of social
classes four and five getting into higher education, generally
speaking they are not as clever as measured by the A-level points
(Mr Bekhradnia) Yes, that is undoubtedly the case.