Dearing queries will fill CVCP agenda

September 12, 1997

Questions are likely to be thicker on the ground than answers at next week's annual residential meeting of the Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals. It will be almost entirely taken up with Dearing report discussion.

Early on in the meeting, Sir Ron Dearing will explain the principles behind his report and recommendations. Higher education minister Baroness Blackstone will offer the Government's response.

CVCP heads will ask members to endorse the report, which should be considered as a package and a compact between students, the DFEE and the government. It will be discussed in five categories.

Funding

Vice chancellors are likely to endorse the call for graduate contributions but will stress the need for this extra money to go into the sector.

Uppermost in their minds will be the short-term funding crisis and Dearing's recommendation that efficiency gains of 6.5 per cent per student envisaged over the next two years should be reduced to just 1 per cent per year.

They will need an answer on this by the end of the year.

A further topic sure to be discussed is the need for the Government to take the student loan debt off the public sector borrowing requirement by an adjustment of accounting methods. While top-up fees are not formally on the agenda, it would be surprising if the topic was not mentioned.

Standards and quality

The CVCP has already started to address many of the quality issues raised by Dearing and will examine where its policies coincide with the Dearing recommendations.

Vice chancellors will also use next week's meeting to clarify their relationship with the new Quality Assurance Agency. The vice chancellors have already set up a group to manage this relationship and monitor what the agency is doing.

One issue likely to be of particular concern is Dearing's recommendation for external examiners to monitor quality.

Participation, access and regions

The meeting may back Dearing's recommendations on improving access but is likely to call for more emphasis on lifelong learning and mature and part-time students.

Vice chancellors will oppose Dearing's suggestion that expansion should be concentrated on sub-degrees in further education colleges as going for growth "on the cheap".

Instead, they will stress the importance of sub-degree programmes in new universities and their popularity with students.

Universities are committed to working with the new regional development associations and to greater collaboration between institutions and between institutions and industry.

Research

Dearing's proposals for the research assessment exercise are likely to be controversial. He recommended that departments rating below a grade 3a should not be eligible for research funding.

Vice chancellors will also discuss greater flexibility in deploying staff, so that they can use equipment and join research teams in other institutions if there is no research money for their own department. Of greatest concern will be the funding gap for equipment .

Teaching and learning

The new Institute for Learning and Teaching proposed by Dearing is likely to be enormously influential and will hold responsibility for raising the status of university teaching through a number of measures, including the accreditation of training programmes for all lecturers.

It is also likely to have a central research co-ordinating and support function.The precise form of the institute has yet to be decided.

A feasibility study has been carried out on behalf of the CVCP by Roger Fieldhouse of Exeter University.

The CVCP is hoping vice chancellors will opt for an independent professional body, rather than a sub-group of an existing agency.

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