Efficiency gains 'threaten quality'

October 9, 1998

Alan Thomson reports from the Conservative conference in Bournemouth.

Universities and colleges will not be able to cope with continued eFciency gains without a serious fall in quality, shadow education minister Damien Green has warned.

Mr Green, the Conservative spokesman for further and higher education, said in Bournemouth this week that there was a question mark over the post-16 sector's ability to meet the government's commitment for an extra 500,000 students by 2002 if, as indicated, the unit of funding is cut by 1 per cent each year. "We will not be able indefinitely to continue to demand eFciency gains without lowering staff morale. It may be that in some places there is already a loss of quality," he said.

Resources could be squeezed further after the Bett inquiry into pay and conditions reports early next year, Mr Green said. "It may well say that more resources must be diverted to pay. The government will have to decide to pay for this or decide that the 500,000 expansion is not realistic."

There is no Conservative policy on further and higher education as yet. The party's "Listening to Britain" exercise will involve Mr Green and the shadow education team touring the country to meet staff, students, funding councils and others involved in the sector.

Mr Green said that policy would be based on institutional autonomy, diversity of mission, and quality. He said that it was self-deluding to pretend that all universities were the same. He said that if students were allowed to vote with their feet, they would become the best judges of quality.

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