Dearing thanks his little helper

August 1, 1997

"The first thing you do is get yourself a Shirley." This was the heady advice from Sir Ron Dearing when asked how one went about compiling a 1,700-page report on higher education.

Committee secretary Shirley Trundle, who has been Sir Ron's support throughout the last year, was by his side this week as he browsed through a selection of media coverage of his infamously weighty report. He pronounced himself pleased with the initial reactions of stakeholders in the higher education world.

"I feel very cheerful about it. There is a very encouraging response from people in the business, clear support," he said.

The Government's effective sabotage of his funding recommendations by its rejection of his preferred option within an hour of its launch, appears not to have angered the veteran of education blueprints. He notes that its system is likely to bring in more money than his own, while being "not as kind to poorer students".

Sir Ron suggests the Government has come far since its pre-election position when David Blunkett ruled out tuition fees. "That was a difficult move for the Government to make," he said.

His next move, after weeks of discussing and explaining the report's recommendations to interested stakeholders and committees? "Dearing goes and digs the garden," he replied.

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