50 per cent participation: can the government meet its target?

February 22, 2002

AUT says schools must fuel growth

The Association of University Teachers has estimated that an extra 670,000 student places must be created to reach 50 per cent participation by 2010.

This would require the creation of more than 60,000 extra places in 2003-04, rising to an extra 84,000 places by 2010. The AUT has projected that about 167,000 of the 670,000 places will be full-time and that the remainder part-time.

The AUT put the cost of the extra places at £3.7 billion over the decade. The projected cost in 2003-04, the first year to be covered by the next spending review, would be £323 million, rising to £517 million by 2009-10.

Top of the union's list of priorities is the need to maintain the student:staff ratio. It has argued that the bulk of extra funding required should be ringfenced for staff recruitment to maintain an SSR of 18:1.

The key to recruiting students is the need to improve educational achievement in schools, the union said.

One major problem, according to the union's analysis, is that the sector is already behind on expansion targets. Former education secretary David Blunkett had set a target of 40,000 extra student places in England in 2000-01, but only half of the extra places were taken up.

Natfhe puts FE in driving seat

Further education holds the key to meeting the target, according to lecturers' union Natfhe.

According to the union, expansion beyond 2010 would require improvement in secondary school performance but this will take too long to make an impact by 2010.

Much more can be achieved by tapping into the large number of students with level-three vocational qualifications in further education, it said. Natfhe has estimated that an extra 100,000 full-time equivalent students would be required to meet the 2010 target. The initial costs for staffing, student support and teaching would come to just over £200 million, it said.

But the union has estimated that the full costs of the expansion over the period will be more than three times that amount - perhaps £650 million.

Natfhe's focus on further education is based on figures from the Higher Education Funding Council for England that show that 54 per cent of 21-year-olds have a level-three qualification, equivalent to two A levels.

Most of those with vocational level-three qualifications come from socioeconomic groups III, IV and V, and study in further education colleges.

Think-tank claims target is irrelevant

Centre-left think-tank the Institute for Public Policy Research believes the 50 per cent participation target should be dropped.

The institute argues that the target is irrelevant in terms of widening participation among poorer people and that the target could be reached without widening participation significantly because the numbers of people with level-three qualifications already exceeds the number of places available.

In 2001, 55 per cent of people had level-three qualifications by age 21. There were 2.96 million 18 to 21-year-olds, of whom 1.63 million were qualified to level three.

The intake in 2000-01, for all higher education students, full and part-time, was 373,905. The combined intakes for 1998-99 to 2000-01 was just over 1.1 million. Statistics for the 2001-02 intake are not yet available.

The IPPR challenges the view that the middle classes have reached saturation point in terms of the proportion studying at higher-education level.

According to the institute, pursuit of a numerical target may distract from the more complex business of increasing the number of poorer people in a position to enter higher education in the first place.

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