Fees threaten tough era

August 8, 1997

RUTHLESS management practices from the private sector could come into higher education with the Goverment's decision to charge students fees.

Education lawyers are warning institutions to crack down on sloppy teachers and update their complaints systems to avoid legal action from undergraduates wanting better value for money.

Julian Gizzi, head of education at Beachcroft Stanleys, which acts for a range of universities and colleges and both the higher and further education funding councils, said: "With their increased financial commitment, students will not tolerate poor quality provision.

"We may even see 'fast-track' dismissals of incompetent academics, such as are being introduced in schools." He said universities would have to adopt a more private-sector approach to recruitment, retaining good staff with attractive salaries and benefits and retraining those whose skills are outdated.

"The idea of a university teacher for whom the teaching part of the job is a distraction from research is unrealistic," he said.

He said universities would also need more formal admissions contracts with students and would need to review prospectus claims.

Jack Rabinowicz, chairman of the Education Law Association, said life could become tougher post-Dearing. Postgraduates were already more litigious than undergraduates because they were spending their own money on a qualification and wanted to make sure it had some worth.

"If students are paying for undergraduate places we will inevitably have more disputes over what they have learnt," he said.

He argued that the key was a better system of dealing with student complaints than the outdated visitor arrangement.

Paul Cottrell, assistant general secretary of the Association of University Teachers, said: ""Provided there are good complaints procedures and representative structures in place for disputes and provided Dearing's recommendations on quality assurance are implemented properly, I don't think we should have anything to fear."

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