45% is a 'realistic' access target

May 2, 2003

The need for two-year higher education courses would disappear if the 50 per cent participation target were reduced by just 5 percentage points, education experts said this week.

Other initiatives could also be overturned if the sector started aiming for a more realistic target, according to the British Educational Research Association.

In its response to the higher education white paper, Bera claims that there would then be no need to create teaching-only universities and the revised target could open the door to an increased unit of funding.

Michael Bassey, Bera academic secretary, said many of the contentious arguments in the white paper related to the 50 per cent target. The figure needed thorough analysis if education policy was to serve the best interests of the nation, he said. "Policy should be evidence based but we find this lacking," he said.

For example, there was an expectation in the white paper that expanding higher education would contribute to economic growth. This argument comes from a review of the literature from the Institute for Fiscal Studies published last year. But Professor Bassey pointed out that the statement of "compelling evidence" that education increased productivity was taken from a global summary of studies and might not be relevant to the UK.

Professor Bassey said the white paper had confused evidence that higher education was the most important phase of education for economic growth.

Raising the school-leaving age might be more effective, he said.

On the intention to concentrate research in a limited number of universities, Bera says there is a strong relationship between research culture and teaching quality in universities.

"That does not mean cause and effect, but may point to something like a vibrant academic culture supporting excellence in both teaching and research."

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