Thursday, 15 April 2010

Election 2010 - What the three main Parties say about Universities

It's hard to make this very exciting, but it might be of interest to see what the Party manifestos are saying about the universities, and about higher education in general. So here goes.

Conservative Party (Manifesto, p.17)
Universities contribute enormously to the economy. But not all of this contribution comes directly – it can come from fundamental research with no immediate application – and universities also have a crucial cultural role. We will ensure that Britain’s universities enjoy the freedom to pursue academic excellence and focus on raising the quality of the student experience. To enable this to happen, we will:

• delay the implementation of the Research Excellence Framework so that it can be reviewed – because of doubts about whether there is a robust and acceptable way of measuring the impact of all research;
• consider carefully the results of Lord Browne’s review into the future of higher education funding, so that we can unlock the potential of universities to transform our economy, to enrich students’ lives through teaching of the highest quality, and to advance scholarship; and,
• provide 10,000 extra university places this year, paid for by giving graduates incentives to pay back their student loans early on an entirely voluntary basis.

Labour Party (Manifesto, chapter 3, p.7)
Higher education is fundamental to our national prosperity. Demand for high-level skills is strong and growing, and the supply of good graduates is an increasingly important factor in global economic competition. We have eliminated up-front fees paid by parents and students, and ensured that the repayment of loans is related to ability to pay. The higher education participation rate for young people from the most disadvantaged areas has increased every year since 2004.

The review of higher education funding chaired by Lord Browne will report later this year. Our aim is to continue the expansion of higher education, widening access still further, while ensuring that universities and colleges have a secure, long-term funding base that protects world-class standards in teaching and research. Ahead of the review, we have provided universities with funding to recruit an extra 20,000 students this year.

Universities must continue to raise their game in outreach to state schools, widening participation and boosting social mobility. We will guarantee mentoring and support for higher education applications to all low-income pupils with the potential for university study, with extra summer schools and help with UCAS applications; and expand programmes to encourage highly able students from low-income backgrounds to attend Russell Group universities. We support universities that already widen access by taking into account the context of applicants’ achievement at school.

In the coming years, priority in the expansion of student places will be given to Foundation Degrees and part-time study, and to science, technology, engineering and mathematics degrees, as well as applied study in key economic growth sectors. The choices and views of students should play an important part in shaping courses and teaching. All universities will be required clearly to set out how they will ensure a high-quality learning experience for students.

Liberal Democrats (Manifesto, pp39-40)
Scrap unfair university tuition fees for all students taking their first degree, including those studying part-time, saving them over £10,000 each. We have a financially responsible plan to phase fees out over six years, so that the change is affordable even in these difficult economic times, and without cutting university income. We will immediately scrap fees for final year students.
• Reform current bursary schemes to create a National Bursary Scheme for students, so that each university gets a bursary budget suited to the needs of its students. These bursaries would be awarded both on the basis of studying strategic subjects (such as sciences and mathematics) and financial hardship.
• Replace wasteful quangos (the Skills Funding Agency and the Higher Education Funding Council for England) with a single Council for Adult Skills and Higher Education.
• Scrap the arbitrary target of 50 per cent of young people attending university, focussing effort instead on a balance of college education, vocational training and apprenticeships.
• Start discussions with universities and schools about the design of a trial scheme whereby the best students from the lowest achieving schools are guaranteed a place in Higher Education.
• As part of our immediate job creation package, fund 15,000 new places on Foundation Degree courses and fully fund the off-the-job costs of adult apprenticeships, which currently have to be met by employers, for one year.

• Better target spending on adult skills. We will end Train to Gain funding for large companies, restricting the funds to the small and medium-sized fi rms that need the support. The money saved will be used to cover the course fees for adults taking a fi rst Level 3 qualification (such as A-levels or an adult apprenticeship), allowing a significant reduction in the overall budget.

All of the above gives lots of food for thought, and I shall come back to some of these issues in subsequent posts.

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