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Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, it has not been completely abandoned. From time to time, as an academic, one gives tutorials to students who come to one's room and say they cannot understand. In Oxbridge the tutorial system continues, and that is one of the advantages of that sector. However, it also costs a lot more.
It was natural to look much more closely at teaching methods. Those changes took place simultaneously with other changes in the 1980s. It was a time when public expenditure was being squeezed enormously and the public and government demanded value for money. As the noble Lord, Lord Norton, and others explained, from that climate derived the two big exercises in accountability: teaching quality assessment and research assessment.
Other bureaucratic exercises have now crept in, many of which have come from this Government rather than the previous one. There is an increasing tendency to ring-fence money and ask for separate bids. That means that somebody must put together the bid. That can take a great deal of administrative and academic time. That is all extra time taken out. The question is whether all of these exercises are really necessary. Have they become unnecessarily bureaucratic?
Because I work in a research unit at the University of Sussex my experience has related largely to RAE which is slightly less bureaucratic than the teaching quality assessment exercises. At the end of the day, probably the unit puts in slightly more than a year's worth of top time to hone the RAE application. It is a five-year exercise. At the start, one has 30 researchers who publish research. One looks at what research is going on, tries to identify the researchers who are likely to produce good work and get them to submit articles to the premier journals to ensure that they publish their work early, and so on. One talks to them about
The other side of the bureaucracy, to which the noble Lord, Lord Norton, also referred, is the spillover: the effects on morale and so on. My impression is that TQA has a much worse record. I have not been involved in the detail. Based on the single lecture course in which I was involved--10 lectures and 10 classes which went with it--I was surprised by the amount of paper. I ended up producing about 200 pages of paper to justify what I did and everything that went with it. It took me about a week to put together. If one assumes that one department has about 120 courses like that, one begins to understand how the Warwick economists came to the conclusion that it would cost £120,000 for one subject review. I have checked with the University of Sussex and discovered that in the past year it has undertaken five reviews. Therefore, the expenditure on these subject reviews by a university is between £½ to £¾ million each year. PA Consulting found that it amounted to a great deal of money.
As the Warwick economists pointed out in their splendid article in the education section of the Guardian, one is batting against a flexible objective which changes all the time. One of the bad factors is the degree to which the rules change all the way along so one never quite knows at what one is looking. It does not give an objective standard of teaching quality or a good measure of changing quality over time. Therefore, it is not necessarily a good diagnostic tool to the department. There are always knock-on effects as one sits down to appraise oneself. Good things come out of it. One realises that there are shortcomings and that it is possible to do some things better, but overall the cost is great and the benefits, which could probably be secured by other much less costly means, relatively marginal.
The reason why these have become such demons within the university sector is that they come on top of what was already a very stressed situation. As various noble Lords have pointed out, during the 1980s the real increase in the resources of universities was not very great, and resources have not kept pace with the demands in terms of student numbers. We know that in 1988 the unit of resource was £7,000 plus; it is now £4,500 plus.
In most departments the average contact time for a teaching fellow is probably between 10 and 14 hours a week. On top of that, one has preparation and marking time. Because classes have become so much larger, marking takes more time. My daughter is currently downstairs with the University of Bradford group showing off what is being done in the environmental sciences department of that university. Just before I came into the Chamber for the debate, I gave tea to my daughter and some of her fellow lecturers. They were very interested in the debate and were sorry that they could not listen to it. I spoke to
I was a detailed marker of essays and I estimated that it took me half an hour to mark one. If I had 16 to do it took eight hours to mark them decently. The time taken to mark nowadays is very great. One has 14 hours of teaching and probably at least the same amount of time for preparation and marking, with five hours spent in committees. That takes up one's 35 hours a week and all one's research. Promotion comes from research. In view of the impact of the RAE the pressures on research are enormous. All of this must be done in the evenings and at weekends. The average working week of academics is now between 50 and 60 hours, and for the more senior staff it is often between 60 to 70 hours. Often 70 per cent of a department suffers stress.
The system resembles closely the system of Soviet bureaucracy. Many noble Lords have drawn attention to the effect that this regime has upon recruitment and retention of staff and the difficulty of continuing to attract the best and brightest brains into the profession. What they have not pointed out are the insidious effects that this command economy has created within the collegiate system of our universities. Instead of professionalism, there is increasing cynicism and emphasis on how best to get around the rules; in effect, to cheat against the rules and to be economical with the truth.
We all know how the Soviet system collapsed under the weight of its own inefficiencies. British universities have a long and very distinguished record of scholarship and invention, borne from a liberal regime of independence and autonomy. Noble Lords have not quarrelled with the need for accountability, but it is dangerous that we may let our universities fall under the weight of their own bureaucracy.
Earl Russell: My Lords, before my noble friend sits down, perhaps I may assist her argument by pointing out to the noble Earl, Lord Longford, that I last practised the tutorial system as recently as yesterday afternoon. If it is dead, I am a ghost and I have not noticed.
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Norton for the opportunity to have the debate and for his excellent speech. The noble Lord's theme was that universities are under-resourced, undervalued and underpaid.
The Government, on coming into office, set about, in their own words, "a modernising agenda". Indeed, in that respect, hardly any of our institutions has escaped the Whitehall tentacles. They set about this work with gusto. In just four years their most significant achievement has been to turn professional staff in our schools, further and higher education in colleges and universities into ciphers, paper pushers and collators of endless information demanded by the Government, the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education and the research assessment exercise.
The staff are enslaved by overburdensome bureaucracy and no value has been added to the quality of higher education by this additional work. One can add to that concerns about levels of central government interference through the various and unco-ordinated funding initiatives and of course concerns about the much discussed, but as yet unresolved, levels of pay for university lecturers which are affecting recruitment and retention. The level of bureaucracy is having a considerably adverse effect on the work of universities.
Accountability is important. However, the system of quality assurance has invalidated the aims of accountability by debilitating the energies of teachers and lecturers and by absorbing excessive costs.
What is depressing is that the Government now accept that there is a problem. They have spent four years creating the burden of bureaucracy, only to focus now on reversing that problem. Earlier this year the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, said:
The PA report commissioned by HEFCE was damning. The authors of the report found that higher education institutions incurred significant costs, both direct and indirect, which are generally not measured nor planned. The table on page 6 of the report calculated costs of £250 million, which does not include the cost to the quality of teaching in universities arising from--I quote--
On page 7 of the report they also found that the overall accountability regime for English higher education emerges as a patchwork of legacy requirements from different stakeholders responding to different concerns at different times, with little overarching design, co-ordination or rationale. In consequence, the current regime represents poor value for money for both stakeholders and institutions.
The report goes on to say that there is a lack of defined relationships between stakeholders and higher education institutions and different agencies; there are inconsistencies between the key agencies and the accountability requirements; and information requirements are uncoordinated, duplicated and, in many cases, redundant. To wait until the autumn of this year before these issues are properly addressed suggests an indifference over the past four years to the concerns of our universities, all of which were predicted when the QAA system was put in place.
The issue of university lecturers' pay cannot be divorced from this issue. I shall not pretend today--nor did I in our debate last week on student poverty--that concerns about pay and conditions in universities and their funding started in May 1997. We are all culpable. But I must emphasise again that the Dearing report was established by the Conservative Government precisely to deal with these issues, including increased access for students. That report was commissioned with the support of the Labour Party.
Recommendation 50 of the Dearing report advocated that an independent committee should be appointed by the employers to consider a framework for determining pay and conditions of service. As we all know, an independent report by the Bett committee published in June 1999 acknowledged the need to raise the salaries of university lecturers. The Bett report called for an extra £350 million from the Government. However, the Government have consistently avoided a direct response to the Bett report, arguing that it was commissioned for the sole benefit of the university employers. The Guardian on 13th July 1999 reported
However, Recommendation 50 of the Dearing committee does not actually specify that the review committee should answer to the employers alone. Although the report recommends that higher education employers appoint the committee, it makes no mention of the intended recipients. The fact that the Government are allotted the task of choosing the chairman indicates that the Dearing committee envisaged government participation in the review. It implies that the Government would be expected to respond upon publication of the review committee's findings.
If Recommendation 50 is considered in context, it appears even more likely that a government response to the prospective review committee was anticipated. Paragraph 72, which precedes Recommendation 50, states:
The Government claim to have increased real terms funding to higher education by 11 per cent over the four years up to 2001-02. I take issue with that. Indeed, I believe that in another place the Liberal Democrats have done so too. Using the Government's preferred measurement of spending on higher education, including the science budget, as a proportion of GDP, and referring in particular to a parliamentary Written Answer, spending as a proportion of GDP between 1992 and 1997 was up 1.27 per cent, whereas between 1997 and 2000 it was up only 1.14 per cent. Furthermore, what modest increases there have been have been more than absorbed by the widening of access. So there is not much scope left for addressing the problems of university pay and conditions.
Low morale, poor recruitment and retention policies, excessive bureaucracy and too much interference by Ministers need to be addressed. I was impressed, as I always am, by the noble Lord, Lord Morgan. He was right to say that there are lessons to be learnt from history. In a confessional mode I would agree that members of the previous government as well as of the present Government need to learn those lessons. There is a way forward that would enhance academic freedom. Whatever criticisms are made of Conservative policies for universities, the truth is that the universities would welcome being set free-- from control and interference, free from bureaucracy and free to manage their own affairs.
Endowment is a way forward and our plans for student finance together with the way in which tax relief will work mean that many students will pay less over time and they will not be obliged to start repayments until earnings are at £20,000 at current prices.
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I join other noble Lords in expressing thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Norton, for initiating this important debate. He identified the issues in a characteristically precise way and stayed very much within the framework of the subject, concentrating on the issue of the burden of bureaucracy on universities.
The noble Lord also asked some quite specific questions. I am not sure that I am entirely equipped to answer them, except to say, first, that I recognise the quote from the chairman of the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals, who said that our system is the most scrutinised in the advanced world. I would not worry about that epithet if scrutiny was reflected in terms of us also having a higher education system that produced best value for our people and was of a high standard as a whole.
I maintain that, despite some aspects of jeremiad identified in the debate, we have much to be proud of in our universities. We are still attracting students in very large numbers--from abroad, with their clear element of choice, and students from this country--and our position with regard to research is second only to the United States, with its vastly greater resources. Therefore, in a debate such as this, we must be careful not to produce a false perspective of just what is achieved in universities.
The noble Lord asked--it became slightly metaphysical as far as I was concerned--about when light would become lighter in terms of the touch of bureaucracy. During the course of my speech I hope to be able to identify to the noble Lord developments in the process whereby control over quality in higher education is to be exercised from now on. That will certainly be lighter--perhaps to the extent of 40 per cent in relation to the bureaucratic burdens in the assessment of teaching quality. I shall seek to identify the reforms that are being proposed to reach that objective. Whether that will be light enough for the noble Lord, I very much doubt as I recognise the position that he adopts. Nevertheless, I hope to indicate substantial progress and a recognition that one of the concerns of higher education has certainly been about the over-bureaucratic nature of the accountability exercise.
There has not been a speaker in the debate who has not recognised the importance of our higher education system being fully accountable to our people. But how do we achieve that in the best and most economic way? The noble Baroness, Lady Warwick, welcomed aspects of the lighter touch that have been announced by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State. He has today identified how that lighter touch is to be
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