Examination of Witness(Questions 440-359)|
MBE, a Member of the House of Commons, Minister of State for Lifelong
Learning and Higher Education, Department for Education and Skills,
Wednesday 12 December 2001
440. Would it not be sensible in 2003 or 2004
to have a target for 2015?
(Margaret Hodge) Down the line of course one would
have to revisit the target. Sitting in the year 2001, I am happy
to look at 2010.
441. Minister, I must push you on this. The
target is ambitious at 50 per cent and you are full of enthusiasm
for it. We have had the Learning and Skills Council appear before
us. It is down-tuning its targets. That organisation told us that
the target for young learners achieving level three qualifications
was only rising from 85 per cent; those achieving a level two
qualification, GCSEs and equivalent, by 2004 currently is 75 per
(Margaret Hodge) It is pretty ambitious.
442. Fifty-five per cent receiving a level three
qualificationA levelsby 2004. It is currently 51
per cent. That is only a 4 per cent increase. That seems to be
timid. Does that timidity at the learning skills FE level square
with the ambitious target of 50 per cent? Do they match up?
(Margaret Hodge) The answer is yes, they do. There
is joined-up work going on to ensure that what is feeding through
the schools FE system is that those targets are appropriate to
meeting the 2010 target. We are building that up. Coming back
to a point made by David Chaytor earlier, I should say that there
are a million people in that cohort, 21 to 29 year-olds, who currently
have a level three qualification, but who are not engaged in higher
education. There is another cohort of people there whom we need
443. It is said you could only get 10 per cent
of your target out of that cohort.
(Margaret Hodge) It is interesting that they are convinced
of that. We shall see. It depends how successful we are, for example,
on the foundation degrees and work-based learning. We shall try
our hardest to maximise things.
444. On the numbers and the targets, earlier
you were asked about quality and whether it is the maintenance
of standards or the improvement of standards. How do you measure
quality in HE?
(Margaret Hodge) So far it has been measured by the
Quality Assurance Agency. For the past seven or eight years they
have gone around and carried out extremely detailed subject reviews.
The sector appears to be finding this incredibly bureaucratic
and paper-chasing, but nevertheless every university to which
I have spoken admits that having to participate in a quality assessment
has improved the quality of their teaching. Now we have to look
beyond that and see what systems should be put in place to encourage
improvement in quality of teaching and to assess the quality objectively.
I think we will come out with probably a mixture of things, partly
incorporating student views, partly looking at the internal auditsand
they will be assessed by the QAAand partly looking at things
like external examiners' views. Those are the sort of elements
we are looking at.
Chairman: Minister, we now want to move on to
funding higher education.
445. Minister, the UK proportion of GDP spent
on higher education is 1.1 per cent, the OECD average is 1.3 per
cent and in the USA it is 2.3 per cent. Do you need to raise significantly
the funding for higher education to achieve the 50 per cent and
all the other ambitions that you outlined so well earlier on?
(Margaret Hodge) Yes.
(Margaret Hodge) We are under-funded at the moment,
but, again, let us not under-play ourselves; we are incredibly
successful in higher education. We have one of the best graduate
rates, we have the second-best retention rate and we have maintained
that despite the huge increase in the number of students; we do
punch massively above our weight on research and we are an increasingly
popular destination for international students. So there is a
lot of good stuff out there. So, not adequately funded but there
has been a lot of good stuff. How do we intend to do it? We will
put together, I hope, a very credible package of proposals as
part of our bid towards resources. Like all ministers who appear
before you and every Select Committee, things are much tougher
post-September 11 than they were before. We will have to see both
what the position of the economy is and what the position on the
distribution of public spending is, but we will do our level best
to have a good package which will support our ambitions in higher
447. You indicated the fact that we make better
use of each pound that we spend, perhaps, than some of our competitors.
(Margaret Hodge) I think so. To be honest, when I
come to this sectorand I have been in the job now for five
or six monthsI have been surprised about how well we have
done. Right across the public sector there are whole areas of
the public sector which are suffering from under-funding. I think
HE has stood up better against those challenges than many, many
other areas of the public sector.
448. Minister, you would admit there are concerns
about retention and attracting new staff. In particular subjects
you have to train to PhD level and beyond, and then retain them
into the teaching profession. We have been heavily lobbied by
the computer scientists in society who are desperately worried
that there will be no staff coming through, being retained to
teach the computer engineers and computer scientists for the future.
That is a real concern not just in computer science but in a number
of other areas. I am getting a little bit of a feeling of complacency.
You say we punch above our weight and make better use of resources,
but you can only push that so far when you look at OECD averages,
which are significantly above us, and the Americans where twice
the amount has been spent on higher education.
(Margaret Hodge) I am not complacent. One of the manifesto
commitments we had was to introduce golden hellos into HE around
shortage subjects, and we will pursue that. I am very conscious
of the relative salary levels in the UK and, for example, Australia
and New Zealand and at professorial level in comparison with universities
in the States. There is a gap. Equally, the other side of this
coin is that when we ask the universities to produce evidence
of their difficulties in recruitment and retention, they are pretty
reluctant, if I may say so, Chairman, to actually put pen to paper
and give us that hard evidence. What you tend to get is anecdotal
evidence of "I have not got as many people to choose from",
or "There was only one person really up to it", so you
get a feel of a tightening of the labour market but you do not
get the feel of the problems that face us in, again, other parts
of the public sector, both in education and elsewhere.
449. There is a concern that things might get
tougher. If there was a decision, for example, as a result of
your review of student finance, to get rid of the fee, the universities
would lose that as a significant source of income. I think they
said that would mean two-thirds of £650 million lost to university
budgets. If that happened, would you guarantee to make the shortfall?
(Margaret Hodge) Their figure, I think, is wrong.
450. I am looking at colleagues, but I think
it was £650 million.
(Margaret Hodge) I think that figure is wrong. Anyway,
given that only 50 per cent pay any fee and only a third pay a
full fee, I think the current income from fees is about £400
451. We have got it on our transcript. It is
a lot of money for the universities to lose.
(Margaret Hodge) We need to ensure that we have a
proper balance between student contribution and state contribution.
I come back to that, and I am equally consciousand I know
you are, Chairmanthat we have to ensure we fund the higher
education infrastructure as soundly as we want to fund individual
452. Would you make up the shortfall?
(Margaret Hodge) I am not sure. We will have to ensure
that higher education institutions are properly funded. All I
can do is come back to you with absolute honesty and say I think
we have got a legacy of under-funding. We have to start tackling
that. We will have to see where we go on the CSR.
453. Why do you not knock on the Chancellor's
door and say "We want a higher education tax dedicated to
universities becoming really world-class"?
(Margaret Hodge) There is a commitment in the manifesto,
which we will be hoping to hold everybody to, on the proportion
of GDP spent on education. That is probably the more appropriate
way of doing it.
454. Hoping or determined to?
(Margaret Hodge) We will.
455. "Hoping" sounds a bit flaky.
(Margaret Hodge) Sorry. I am certainly not flaky.
456. Coming specifically to the review of student
support, have you published the terms of reference for that review?
(Margaret Hodge) I think we have said that we are
looking at simplification of the system to see whether we need
to give more up-front support to students, particularly those
from lower socio-economic groupings, and we want to look at the
issue of debt and fear of debt. Those are the key issues that
we have set.
457. Does it cover FE as well as HE?
(Margaret Hodge) No.
458. FE students are not included in this particular
(Margaret Hodge) In this particular review, no, but
we are looking at the position of support for FE students and,
actually, all adult students in the context of the Comprehensive
Spending Review. You will know that we have got the Educational
Maintenance Allowance pilot going on in a third of the country,
and we are waiting for the assessment of that to come through,
but it is showing very positive results.
459. So in joined up thinking, all of those
are being accounted for within the department, even though that
may not be within the review that you are initiating on student
support for higher education?
(Margaret Hodge) Yes.