First reactions from stakeholders

July 25, 1997

Dashed hopes or a real way forward? By and large Dearing is welcomed by the HE sector which just hopes the Government implements it


President of the National Union of Students

Dearing was our great hope. Not enough money to buy food or pay the rent, not enough books in the library and teaching staff demoralised, underpaid and overworked. Add confusion over courses and qualifications and it is fair to say our education system is in crisis.

The committee's vision offers increased money for students in hardship; it will mean more students from different backgrounds participating in education; and it will mean increased student representation, better paid and better trained teaching staff and improved study resources. Unfortunately, Dearing and the Government agree that a quality mass education system costs, and students must contribute through tuition fees. The bill must be paid but we are in dispute over who picks up this particular cost.

Industry and big business should come up with an increased contribution since they do benefit from excellent research and outstanding graduate employees.

What do you like most?

The student voice was heard, and we remain the most considered party within the report's finding, with real gains on access, part-time student funding, teacher training and representation.

What do we like least?

Graduates in work are expected to pay the bill for education. It is by no means an immediate solution to the funding crisis and we feel industry and big business should have a bigger part to play in supporting the sector financially.


Chairman of the Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals

My first reaction is admiration for the report's fusion of vision and realism. It nails its colours to the mast with its sure commitment to lifelong learning and widening participation. But it also clearly identifies the pressing funding situation faced by universities in the short term. Sir Ron does not mince his words about the need to reduce the planned cuts in spending per student of 6.5 per cent over the next two years.

The whole funding question is, of course, the aspect of the report with the most immediate impact for CVCP members. We welcome Dearing and the secretary of state's recognition of the principle that students should make a contribution to the cost of their teaching if quality is to be maintained. It is crucial that additional monies raised will be fed back into higher education. But the big question is will the Government's proposals meet adequately the funding gap, particularly in the short term?

The report reveals an abundance of common ground between the committee of inquiry and CVCP. We welcome the recommendation to lift the cap on student numbers and to expand. The report echoes many of our concerns, from the need to invest more in research to the importance of teaching in higher education. The underpinning concept of compact - a deal between higher education and society - is to be commended. We will keep our side of the bargain and respond to Sir Ron's agenda for action.

What do I like least?

There is a frustration that in these early days its many implications are lost, pushed into the shadows of the funding debate.


President of the Royal Society

We strongly endorse the notion of a "learning society" that permeates the report, with its corollary of expanded opportunities for all people at all stages of their lives to have access to higher education.

We also welcome the emphasis on maintaining and enhancing quality. The Institute for Learning and Teaching, along the lines of that proposed by the society, will do much to foster higher standards of education. The proposed framework of qualifications will allow for a range of qualifications, including those in the sciences, to be developed to cater for a range of needs.

On the funding of research in universities, we endorse the committee's recognition of the need for immediate action to address the acute problem of inadequate infrastructure. We also endorse its approval for an effective dual support system, and stress the plurality of objectives of dual funding.

The dual support system does more than just supply the infrastructure for projects funded by research councils, and any move that weakened its other functions would have serious long-term consequences.


General secretary of the Association of University Teachers

If the Dearing report is remembered only for the introduction of tuition fees, it would be a grave injustice. The international higher education funding crisis stems from underfunded growth and damaged quality. To restore quality, either new income streams are inevitable or the UK must be prepared for tax increases above 3p in the pound for higher education.

No government will do that. But it is imperative that any student contributions are non-regressive and repaid only when, as graduates, individual earnings reflect the advantages of higher education. It is even more essential that business makes the largest contribution. Those who benefit from higher education are shareholders in advanced technical businesses.

Sir Ron's quality crusade should be welcomed. Based on a stable proportion of GDP spent in higher education, it emphasises professionalism in teaching and research and commensurate pay. The Institute for Learning and Teaching, its ownership by the profession, accreditation of teachers and staff development are vital. So is the robust scheme through which panels of external examiners will ensure nationwide comparability in degrees. Additionally, the clear distinction between higher education and further education missions, and quality certificates required for franchised courses in further education, will boost the best and close the worst.

I like least but understand the funding problem and am disappointed that pay review is not fully conceded; I am wholehearted about an empowered profession in the quality arena. Don't keep us at arm's length if the UK wants the best of us.


Chairman of the Standing Conference of Principals

I welcome the commitment to diversity. And while it encourages regional co-operation and partnerships, it recognises that these will only flourish in response to the reality of mutual institutional interests.

That diversity carries with it self-discipline, on the part both of the institutions and the sector which I strongly support. It requires institutions to deliver high-quality staffing and teaching. It places significant responsibility on the Quality Assurance Agency, and on all institutions working with the QAA, to establish, promulgate and maintain standards.

This is not the heady stuff of Robbins but I consider it right for the times and I hope the Government will follow through its funding proposals.

I worry about the number of issues passed on to other bodies and groups for consideration, recommendation and decision. Much of importance lies in the minutiae of the sub-text. What will be crucial is what we do with Dearing. But as Sir Ron has always reminded us, that is up to us.


Vice chancellor of the Open University

Dearing has enthusiastically embraced the vision of a learning society and defined the role of higher education in terms of developing and sustaining that vision - inspiring and enabling individuals to develop their capabilities to the highest potential levels throughout life.

My biggest regret is that the report does not go the further step and ensure that all adults are able to secure access to learning opportunities on equal terms. At the moment, those who are able to study full-time receive direct financial support from the public purse. Those who study part-time do not. They have to pay their own tuition fees and study costs. The committee's recommendations do little to change that basic inequity. They suggest that part-time students who are in receipt of certain benefits and allowances should get help with fees.

Although the report concludes that making the choice between part- and full-time study should be financially neutral, it gives two reasons why this cannot be adopted. First, it would too expensive. But the committee's own calculations show that introducing equity for part-time undergraduate students would cost only Pounds 50 million, out of a total additional funding requirement for higher education of more than Pounds 1,900 million.

Second, it would risk substituting public money for employer contributions. But employer support of part-time undergraduate study is minimal. And employer support of professional and postgraduate study is variable.

It is time that we stopped thinking that only full-time students are worthy of support. We should stop paying lip-service to lifelong learning and do something about it.

I wholeheartedly applaud the Dearing committee for recommending that all learners should make a contribution to the cost of their study. Equally, however, I believe that we should give all students an equal and fair entitlement to loans and other public support.

What do you like most?

The declaration that the UK must create a society committed to learning throughout life.

What do you like least?

The lack of firm practical steps to achieve the vision.


Director of education at the Confederation of British Industry

The Confederation of British Industry strongly welcomes the report, particularly with regard to its positive recommendations on a number of issues which we view as priority areas, including quality and expansion.

The role of higher education in enhancing UK competitiveness is a welcome major theme. We are particularly supportive of the recommendations covering specification of programmes in terms of outcomes - the skills and knowledge expected to be acquired by graduates - together with the expanded role of the Quality Assurance Agency in setting threshold standards.

Recommendations for improving teaching standards in the form of the proposed establishment of the Institute for Learning and Teaching in Higher Education and review of other staff development policies with a view to performance-based teaching will also be well received by employers.

We also support the recommendation to abolish over time the cap on sub-degree level and full-time undergraduate positions.

One of the main areas of concern for the CBI relates to the recommendation to charge for tuition. Such a proposal raises questions about the disincentive effects it may have on less well-off applicants, particularly if considered along with the Government's decision to abolish student grants. The CBI had proposed, to deal with the immediate needs of the sector, a partial transfer from the maintenance budget, while keeping grants for less well-off students.


Chief executive of the Quality Assurance Agency for higher education

IF THE priority of government is to be education, education and education it is timely that Sir Ron should remind us that this must be underpinned with attention to standards, standards and standards. Robust quality assurance is essential to maintaining the good name and international standing of higher education.

Quality cannot be imposed from outside; it must be owned from within institutions. But there must be a clear national framework within which quality can be demonstrated, and which can be used to promote continuous improvement of provision, and remedial action where necessary.

Dearing gives an opportunity for the sector, through the QAA, to demonstrate that it is able to combine collective responsibility for quality and standards with public accountability.

What do you like most?

The robust approach to overseas franchises, where one poor-quality programme can do disproportionate damage to our entire international reputation.

What do you like least?

The failure to tie accreditation of teachers to the achievement of specific standards of personal competence.


Director general of the British Council

Britain attracts some 210,000 international students to its public sector education institutions each year. A much larger and ever-increasing number follow British courses and training programmes by distance learning in their own country. The most significant aspects of the Dearing report for this audience will be those which deal with the safeguarding and enhancement of quality.

Specific points of interest are:

* the tightening of restrictions on franchising and the elimination of serial franchising

* the proposals for a framework for qualifications and the role of the Quality Assurance Agency in guaranteeing benchmarks and regulating minimum standards

* the recommendations for an Institute for Learning and Teaching, leading to greater academic professionalism

Equally welcome is the recognition that there must be identical standards of excellence for the delivery of British education overseas as for courses in the UK.

The report points out that, to the best of the committee's knowledge, the UK is the only country to have carried out a national audit of international collaborative provision of higher education, and recommends that a similar assessment take place on a regular basis.

What do you like most?

The recognition of the importance of diversity within the bounds of consistent standards of excellence is of great importance to our work.

What do you like least?

The one area which may have an adverse effect on the attractiveness of British education for some international students is the way in which new fees for home students are extended to those coming from within the European Union.


Executive committee member of Save British Science

The fundamental importance of science and engineering within universities has been understood by the committee.

But overall, his proposals for science are less effective than his bold and largely laudable suggestions for the academic sector as a whole.

Sir Ron understands that university research needs to be world class. And he recognises that there is a crisis caused by drastic underfunding. He even ignores the current dogma that no matter how acute a problem is, extra funding must not be asked for: he blatantly calls for an injection of new money to resolve these difficulties - strong medicine in this time of public expenditure restriction. He wants the extra cash to allow research councils to pay more realistic overheads to the universities, a sensible aim.

But in the small print Sir Ron lets the Government off the hook with what appears to be a logical flaw. He allows an alternative to new money: to transfer another Pounds 110 million from the higher education funding councils to the research councils. He does not favour this option, but by providing it he gives the government an escape route.

Which all leads to Dearing's third option: do less research. This will inevitably damage the science and engineering base, the foundation of innovation and competitiveness.

What do you most like?

The recognition that our universities, and the science and engineering within them, need to be internationally competitive even if that requires greater government investment.

What do you most dislike?

Sir Ron has failed to challenge the Government directly to provide the new money that he strongly believes is needed for university science.


Chief executive of the Association of Colleges

The college sector will welcome the lead which Sir Ron's report will now give for the next 20 years. The envisaged participation rate of 45 per cent cannot be achieved without a commensurate growth in further education, not only in HNC/HND provision, but at the lower levels in further education which feed into higher education. Essentially, growth in higher education means growth in further education and the sector is eager to assist this growth.

The Association of Colleges also welcomes a clearer shoreline between colleges and universities. In the medium term, priority in growth in sub-degree provision should be accorded to further education colleges. We appreciate this recognition of the distinctive contribution which FE offers, and the boost to be given to non-degree level work by the recommendation that the cap on sub-degree level work is lifted immediately.

It will continue to be the case that the taxes of working 17-year-olds will help to pay the fees of prospectively more affluent 21-year-old HE students. In some ways, current FE students will be doubly penalised. With a much lower level of financial support while in FE, they will now face higher fees as they move into HE.

What do you like most?

Its plain dealing in support of advanced further education What do you like least?

The compromise on funding.


Secretary of the University Council for the Education of Teachers

The recommendations for teacher education chime with UCET's own concerns and aspirations for teacher supply, partnership with schools, integrated provision and value for money.

"A more robust, transparent and stable manpower planning model" would be of real value. Short-term changes in target numbers over the years have caused major problems, while the need for recruitment from under-represented groups has been made more difficult by the increasingly rigid operation of the Teacher Training Agency/ OFSTED quality framework. UCET has argued strongly that the arrangement for quality assurance and assessment of teacher education should be brought into line with higher education generally. We welcome Dearing's push for rationality.

UCET has consistently argued that the true costs of partnership with schools should be assessed. Neither schools nor higher education institutions are properly resourced for the task. An evaluation of the various recent forms of teacher training is crucial in measuring value for money. Value for money also depends on the integrated induction and inservice arrangements originally envisaged by James 25 years ago, now restated by Dearing.

We like most the clear recognition that higher education has a major role to play in teacher education. We like least the way in which Dearing stopped short of proposing the rationalising of funding responsibilities JOHN GRAY

General secretary of the National Postgraduate Committee

We are pleased that Dearing endorses a code of practice for postgraduate research but disappointed that it has not considered postgraduate education (particularly taught postgraduate courses) as an integral part of higher education and lifelong learning. The majority of postgraduates have no access to any form of funding and we would like to see postgraduates able to take out maintenance loans along the same lines as undergraduates.


Head of the EdExcel Foundation's higher education unit

Sir Ron Dearing has woven his industrial and educational expertise to produce a report that offers a blueprint for supplying British industry with the advanced technicians that it so desperately needs. He suggests that to meet the growing demand for advanced technicians we need to promote and develop Higher National programmes.

Edexcel, as the main provider of HNDs/HNCs, recognises that this is potentially an area for significant growth under the new framework and accepts the need to adapt its courses in line with Dearing. We are committed to developing pilot courses quickly so that we can meet the ambitious 2001 deadline set by Dearing.

The report's emphasis on flexibility and outcomes is also crucial. Credit accumulation and transfer will enable people to hop on and off the learning path returning to study when it suits them.

What do you like least?

The thought of thousands of copies going unread by those who should really take note.

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