The Department for Education and Employment should be disbanded to allow a radical rethink of higher education policy, the Association of University Teachers said this week.
Launching the union's pre-election "manifesto" for the new Parliament, AUT general secretary David Triesman told The THES that education needed and deserved its own dedicated ministry.
He said a department of education "would focus primarily on driving up standards in teaching, research and access" and focus on re-evaluating higher education's economic contribution, overhauling teacher training and reinvigorating further education.
Employment issues should be hived off into a department of social exclusion, he said, bringing together disparate government initiatives on social inclusion.
The restructuring could focus minds on the need for a radical shake-up of higher education, with priority on more funds, better student support arrangements and a cut in red tape.
Mr Triesman attacked the government for not properly considering an AUT plan for a multimillion-pound boost to higher education. The AUT wants the government to set up a bond scheme to attract private money for the sector. But Mr Triesman said that the government's hostility towards London mayor Ken Livingstone, who supports a bond scheme for the London underground, had ruled out a sensible look at the idea.
The AUT's manifesto says there needs to be a review of higher education funding and investment next year, as recommended by Lord Dearing.
Mr Triesman said that, despite one of the sector's best financial settlements in a generation, the United Kingdom's per capita spending on higher education trails that of most nations in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.
The union's manifesto demands that the UK be brought into the top quartile of OECD countries in terms of higher education spending. The AUT also wants a full inquiry into student funding and its impact on access.
In its manifesto, the AUT also demands:
• That the new government's first budget invest more in research
• That the government form an independent pay review body for professional university staff
• That the fixed-term work directive be fully implemented to end casualisation in universities
• That a government commission investigate strengthening academic freedom in universities and extending it to government scientists and research officers
• That staff development programmes be made a central plank in future university funding arrangements
• That a higher education advisory council be set up to monitor trends in education policy and to make recommendations.
The AUT called on the Better Regulation Task Force to examine university red tape. Mr Triesman, a task force member, said that AUT research showed that the cost of conforming to teaching quality inspections and research assessments was as much as £1 billion a year.
- Performance-related pay is to be introduced in universities, to the dismay of trade unions.
As The THES went to press, the Association of University Teachers reported that the Higher Education Funding Council for England had accepted plans to introduce PRP in universities as part of a number of strings to be attached to the £330 million of extra funds to be released by ministers for university pay over three years.
- Pay talks between unions and employers have been extended. A final meeting will take place on April 6, when the employers will table a firm pay offer. A Natfhe conference, now postponed until April 7, will decide whether to resume industrial action.