Adviser warns of sub-degree peril

August 8, 1997

SUB-DEGREE qualifications could come under threat from Government plans to charge students up-front tuition fees, a leading adviser to the National Committee of Inquiry has warned, writes Harriet Swain.

David Robertson, who advised Sir Ron Dearing on ways of encouraging more working-class students to enter university, said: "The front-loaded nature of fee payments is likely to kill off expansion in further education and kill off the HND because students will prefer to pay for the degree."

Professor Robertson has written to David Blunkett, Secretary of State for Education and Employment, and Tessa Blackstone, the higher education minister, warning that the move to charge fees will amount to "a tax on HNDs".

He said it would have been better to offer students two years of free education and then charge them for their final year, when they would be more committed to academic work.

"If a parent is told they can either pay Pounds 1,000 up front and their child goes to Oxford for a degree or Pounds 1,000 up front and their child goes to an FE college and does an HND, which is the better bargain?" he asked.

A recent survey of 33-year-olds by the Institute for Fiscal Studies showed that men with non-degree higher education qualifications earned 15 per cent more an hour, on average, than those with just A levels. But for men with first degrees the leap was 21 per cent. Women with non-degree qualifications, such as a NCVQ level four, earned 26 per cent more than those with A levels but 39 per cent more if they had a degree.

But Judith Norrington, head of curriculum at the Association of Colleges, said fees could hurt FE colleges only if they were charged on a flat-rate basis. In fact, the plan was to charge students Pounds 1,000 per year, which could make two-year qualifications more attractive.

Paul Gibbs, head of the education unit at the Edexcel Foundation, the main provider of HNDs, said with Sir Ron's emphasis on vocational education, he expected their popularity to grow.

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