Examination of Witness (Questions 165-179)|
7 JULY 2004
Q165 Chairman: Secretary of State, as
we allow people to settle down, can I welcome you and say that
I feel doubly privileged to have been asking questions of the
Prime Minister this time yesterday morning and you this morning;
but I think you have got a larger attendance than the Prime Minister!
Mr Clarke: I do not know why that
should be. Probably the chairing of the meeting!
Q166 Chairman: I think they were limited
to passholders because of the security fears. Can I welcome you.
Also, a word to the Press. Where were you last week when we did
prison education? Not a single one of you; not one journalist.
I have never known that ever. I was very upset that there was
a lack of interest out there with prison education. It is a very
important piece of our work and that is where many of the failures
of our system end up. So I wish, when you go back, you would talk
to your editors who can decide who comes to where as prison education
goes on. Skills you hardly ever come as to well. We are going
to do something about trying to make it more interesting. So,
that is me doing my school master's bit!
Mr Clarke: Can I issue a series
of complaints about the media as well, Chairman?
Q167 Chairman: When their mobiles go
off I fine them £50, and I have never collected the money!
Shall we get down to business. Secretary of State, I normally
give you a chance to say a brief word of your own to get us started.
Do you wish to do that or do you want to go straight into questions?
Mr Clarke: Not really. Just to
say I appreciate the invitation and thank you for being here.
We are covering a wide range of things but just to reinforce,
I very much value the relationship with the Select Committee.
You have produced a string of reports this year; you have got
some more coming out even before we rise, I think, and we take
your reports very seriously even if we do not agree with every
Q168 Chairman: With what?
Mr Clarke: With every particular.
Q169 Chairman: Oh, with every particular.
Mr Clarke: We value the relationship
and I welcome this as a further stage.
Q170 Chairman: Let us get down to business.
I promised all sorts of people that I would very quickly mention
one thing to you. It is the concern that has been running in the
press over the weekend on bogus degrees. A lot of people are very
worried, and when you scrape away at this problem it does seems
more serious than we at first thought, that people can obtain
pretty authentic looking degree diplomas with all the back up
paperwork of exams passed, and so on. We do not have a registry
of qualifications, and I know that this is a very difficult area.
Is the Department aware of this and is it concerned enough to
do anything about it?
Mr Clarke: We are. I am glad you
gave me notice, Chairman, that you would like to raise this question.
It might be helpful to the Committee if I set out what the legal
position is and how we are dealing with it in response to your
question, firstly the general background. It is an offence under
section 214 to 216 of the Education Reform Act 1988 for a UK body
to award a degree unless it is recognised by the Secretary of
State to do so. Where a foreign institution operates in the UK
it must make it clear that its degrees are not British. Secondly,
the Business Names Act 1985 makes it an offence for any business
operating in the UK to use in its business name the word "university"
unless approval has been granted formally by the Privy Council.
There are two main types of bogus operator that can be reported
by the Department to Trading Standards under the Education Reform
Act. These are so-called bogus institutions that claim to offer
UK degrees or degree courses but are not recognised by the UK
authorities to do so. Some of these also claim to be universities
and use the word "university" in the UK without the
appropriate permission to do so. There are also "degree mills",
where operators sell what they claim are UK degrees over the Internet,
but they are then found to be bogus degrees. The majority of these
Internet operators are based overseas, which does make prosecution
under UK legislation difficult. We refer cases relating to counterfeit
degrees to the Trading Standards Department who liaise with the
police. It is a matter for the police to prosecute organisations
that offer counterfeit degrees; and section 15 of the Theft Act
1968 makes it an offence to obtain property by deception, and
section 16 of the 1968 Act makes it an offence to obtain a pecuniary
advantage by deception. We refer all potential breaches of the
Education Reform Act 1988 by organisations that are based in the
UK and those operating via the Internet to Trading Standards,
who have responsibility for enforcement action. We refer all breaches
relating to the use of "university" in title to Companies
House, who have responsibility for enforcement action under the
Business Names Act. It is an offence for any business operator
in the UK to use in its business name the word "university",
as I have said earlier. It is also an offence to fail to declare
ownership details on business stationery. With many unrecognised
providers operating over the Internet and registered overseas,
students to need to take some responsibility for ensuring they
know the status of degrees, and to that end our website (www.dfes.gov.uk/recognisedukdegrees)
provides information about recognised degrees and higher education
institutions in the UK. It describes the UK higher education system,
warns of the problem of unrecognised degrees and directs people
to recognise the UK institutions found under the heading "Who
can offer you degrees?" on the home page. So that is essentially
the position. We get very few examples of complaints from students
who have unwittingly enrolled at bogus institutions, and we are
working together with the Home Office to produce a list of registered
colleges which are "pukka", if I can put it like that.
I am sorry, Chairman, to answer at length, but I thought it might
be helpful to place on record in front of your Committee what
the legal position is; and we do take it very seriously.
Q171 Chairman: That is useful. Some of
us met with the British Council yesterday to discuss that and
other issues. Would it not be advisable that you and the British
Councilyou as a departmentwork with them to almost
put a sort of "kite mark" in to make that more apparent
to foreign students intending to come to this country?
Mr Clarke: That is precisely the
reason why we are currently drawing up the list that we are which
we intend to publish by the end of this year. In addition, I should
say, quite apart from the activities to which you refer which
are reported in the papers, there are some bogus institutions
which have been set up to facilitate illegal immigration to this
country by a variety of means; and so we have worked very closely
with the Home Office and the Home Office has raided a number of
these places to identify them for what they are, and we have come
to the view, precisely as you suggest, Chairman, that with the
British Council and theI should say not just the British
Council but also the association, particularly of language schools,
ours as was and is now the new organisation, to work together
for a proper "kite mark" in the way you suggest so that
people cannot be fleeced because they do not have the opportunity
of knowing what is really taking place.
Q172 Valerie Davey: Can I follow that
up? I hope that the collaboration extends within the Home Office
to the granting of visas so visas are only given for kite marked
Mr Clarke: That is precisely correct.
When we get the list finally resolved, which we are working on
at the moment and, as I say, will be finally resolved later this
year, then the position of the Home Office will be precisely as
you suggest, Ms Davey, that visas will only be granted to students
going to those recognised institutions; and that is the path that
we are now following to try and clear up what has otherwise been
Q173 Chairman: Thank you for that, Secretary
of State. We have that concern. One of our inquiries is looking
at the market for our university institutions overseas. We have
recently had a couple of evidence sessions on that from HEFCE
and from the British Council. It is such a valuable, can I call
it, industry which rests very much on the quality of the provision
for higher education. It would be serious if it was undermined.
Mr Clarke: I completely agree.
Perhaps I could mention to the Committee, Chairman, that we are
trying to give a higher profile to the international work that
we do in the education field, both through our work with DFID
but also with the DTI and the Foreign Office, and we are hoping
to publish a policy document later this year to coincide with
International Education Week in November setting outputting
the "world" in "world-class education"how
we can develop this much more positively in a variety of different
Q174 Chairman: Are you using higher education
income to balance the fact that . . . If you look at all the education
spending in your Department, everything is rising quite robustly
right across the piece until we get to HE, which is a little bit
of an increase, but not much. When we started the whole debate
about higher education and finance we talked about, certainly
the Universities UK talked about, an £8 billion gap, and
in the discussion over top-up fees we had a figure between £1.5
billion to £2 billion that would come through that source.
Still leaving £6/£6.5 billion, according to Universities
UK. Are you putting all your eggs in the overseas student market?
Mr Clarke: Not at all. I think
if you went and talked to the universities, both the UK and the
universities individually, they would acknowledge first that the
funding stream has started to go up on a per student basis, albeit
slowly, for the first time for decades and is beginning to go
up; secondly, the additional income stream that we have suggested
through the fee regime, which has now got royal assent, I am going
to say; and, thirdly the research increases which we have identified,
and I think a paper produced by the Treasury and our Department
to be published shortly on science will indicate a continued very
strong financial commitment in that area. All are sources of income
for universities which, I think, will put them in a better position
than they have been for a very long time. I do not accept the
description that you give of HE spending being static while the
rest of education is moving forward. I do accept the point that
you make that we have given a greater priority to primary and
secondary education. So it is in a relatively worse position than
schools, but I do not think it is as bad as you suggest.
Q175 Chairman: But, Secretary of State,
I have got the fees in front of me, 1998 through to 2003, 2004
and the change over that period: schools plus 41.9%; under fives
plus 17.8%; primary plus 34.2; secondary plus 34.5; other plus
74.2; school capital, nearly a 100% increase; further education
and adult (John Brennan will be very pleased with this) 53.2%;
higher education 11.3. So it is pretty stark compared to those
figures, is it not?
Mr Clarke: It is true that at
the beginning of the Government, from 1997 onwards, we specifically
did give priority to primary and secondary education, and that
was an explicit act of policy because we felt as a government
that that was where the priority needed to be; but I think in
the second Comprehensive Spending Review 2002 settlement we gave
a significant extra commitment to higher education which had not
been possible earlier on, and, for the reasons that I said, we
are committing now in the way that we are, but I make no . . .
It was almost . . . I know you are a non-party in the role that
you play, Chairman, it was almost a party political, the list
of significant increases in expenditure through the course of
this Government are in all aspects of education, which indicates
how we have been able to invest in the ways that we have; and
the fact that is, we do give priority to schools, and I defend
that without any qualification, but we are now able to spread
that progress throughout the system in the ways that I have described.
Q176 Chairman: Thank you for that. Can
I ask one further question about that? Everyone is talking about
the demographic change of our country; that we are having much
less population in the primary and junior schools; the demographic
curve is changing; we are going to have an excess of teachers
in the primary sector and that is going to move through the system.
As that moves through the system are you going to be able to,
and will you want to, shift resources from that end of the spectrum
through to higher education and further education where the bulge
is still moving through? Is that part of the plan?
Mr Clarke: It is an entirely correct
question, and I will confess to you, Chairman, in the confidence
of this room, that the biggest difficulty we have with our CSR
settlement, which is generally a good settlement which the Chancellor
announced in the budget, is making sure we can properly resource
the expansion which will come, for two reasons, in the post-16
sector, particularly in FE. The first is the demographic pressure
that you indicate and, secondly, the fact that we are increasingly
successful in our policies and more people are staying on at 16.
So you have a double pressure coming in on the resource in those
areas, and, as it were, the penalty of success in those areas
is that we are under greater financial pressure, and that is what
we have been wrestling with. At the bottom end of the demographic
pressure we are continuing with the position of saying that we
are not prepared to fund schools above their roll now that the
falling school roll is a real factor in the situation, and that
does give pressures in a number of junior schools and primary
schools in the country, particularly in certain areas. In that
sense we are rolling forward the money. The money follows the
change in the age group. I do not think it specifically is an
issue for HE so much; though as we succeed in moving an expansion
of the number of people who go into HE, then the resource issue
will follow, but I think in both post 16 generally and HE in particular
it is entirely possible to foresee resources coming in from other
areas in the ways that we want to see. If you see some of the
new foundation degrees which are being established, for example,
there is a significant contribution from the relevant employers
in that area, and we are hoping, of course, with our modern apprenticeships
and the rest of it, to get significant employer contribution.
Q177 Chairman: There seem to be two opportunities
that have been presented to this Committee. One is that as this
demographic change takes place you can use the large number of
primary school teachers that will be trained and find it more
difficult to get a job, and are already finding that, but you
could also use that in terms of the Early Years where there is
a dearth of highly trained, especially teacher-trained, personnel
in that Early Years situation. Is there any ambition to do anything
in that area?
Mr Clarke: Absolutely. You are
entirely correct. Without revealing significant details of our
proposals, we have already announced the commitment towards extended
schools which does bring together children's services in a wide
variety of different ways and extends the capacity of the school
to offer services to the local community in a wider range, but
also we have announced the significant expansion in what we are
doing for under fives, and we will continue to do that; and, as
you correctly imply, both in terms of the physical building in
the case of primary schools with less numbers of pupils and in
the case of the staff, not just teachers but non-teaching staff
as well, there is a potential there for ensuring that our whole
under-five offer is improved in a very significant way, which
is a major priority of the Government. So in answer to the dilemma
which you indicate, my own belief is that as you get falling rolls
at the bottom end of the age range that resource would get switched
to under-fives and to the extended school function in that area
rather than teachers, as it were, being redeployed into FEs, what
I expect to be the main thrust of what happens.
Q178 Chairman: You have just said that
this is an all party Committee, and it is, and our job is to look
at the way in which tax-payers' money is spent in a way that gives
value for money. That is one of our central missions. When we
look at expenditure on education, many of us every time we see
an increase in expenditure throw our hats in the air and say,
"Hurrah. That is really rather good. That means better achievement
of people", and so on. The Treasury certainly boasts, and
has boasted fairly recently, that greater expenditure leads to
higher achievement in education, but the figures do not really
bear that out very well, do they? If you look at the run of figures
over the last decade, there are periods in which low levels, relatively
low levels of expenditure on education produce very good results,
whereas periods of high intensive expanding education expenditure
do not achieve very much better?
Mr Clarke: My view is that higher
spending and higher investment is a necessary but not a sufficient
condition for education improvement and performance. It is a necessary
condition because the number of teachers, non-teaching staff working
in a particular school or college is a significant factor. Training
of teachers, continued professional development, which costs money,
is a significant factor, so that teachers improve, and basics
like the facilities that are in a school, the ICT that is available
and so on, can reinforce performance, but it is not a sufficient
condition because it is entirely possible to have all that but
for it not to be focused properly on improving educational standards
in the way that we all want to see, and any survey of different
schools throughout the country will show that there are schools
with similar social issuesfree school meals, for example,
or resources being broadly similarwhich are achieving dramatically
different results for their children, and that is why we have
to focus on a reform agenda which tries to raise that performance
and carry it through. I am not one of those who believes you simply
pump in more money and that solves the problemI do not
think it doesbut I do think you need more money for many
of the things which obviously we see around.
Q179 Chairman: But it is quite surprising,
when you look from 1990-91 to 1994-95 and we look at the five
GSE grades A to C, the improvement was plus 6.7 in that period.
The increase in real terms was 11.4%. So you get an 11.4% increase
in expenditure, a 6.7 increase in improvement in grades. Then
you move to what I think is the most interesting middle period,
1994-95, and you see only a 3.4% increase in current expenditure
in real terms, but you get a plus 4.4 increase in grades A to
C. That is the central conundrum. Then the latest, 1988-89 to
2002-03, you get a 5% increasenot much more than the previous
perioda 5% increase in grades at A to C, with a 31.6 increase
in expenditure. How do you explain that middle band?
Mr Clarke: I am noting down the
figures as you go, but, simply by reference to what I said earlier,
I do not think there is a direct linear relationship between expenditure
and performance. I simply do not think that is the case. If you
take the different faces that you are describing and the description
you have just given, the first phase you are talking about, I
would argue, was a period when there was a significantly demoralised
education in the world which existed, which did not feel motivated
and positive about what it was trying to achieve, whatever resource
went in. I think the period after Labour was elected in 1997 led
to an increase in morale, but also an increase in concern. We
were making many changes which gave rise to concerns in some people,
and I think we have now moved to a situation of steady progress
and stabilisation which I think is delivering the kind of results
you are describing.