Sir Ron Dearing will look abroad to answer key questions facing the Robbins-style higher education inquiry launched this week. Sir Ron, who is to head the inquiry, said that other countries were grappling with many of the same problems facing higher education in Britain.
These include issues such as the role and aims of further and higher education, the impact of research on the economy, the most appropriate and cost-effective ways to expand, and the best use of new technology.
As well as looking abroad, Sir Ron will consult widely within Britain. He will begin work as head of the new committee of inquiry into higher education, announced on Monday by Gillian Shephard, the Education and Employment Secretary, after Easter. By then he will have produced the final report of the 16-19 qualifications review.
Sir Ron told The THES that the present system might not be able to meet expected demand for higher education. The development in Britain of a broader post-16 curriculum, in common with education trends abroad, as well as the establishment of ambitious new education and training targets, implied a big expansion.
He stressed he had an open mind on what kinds of solutions to this problem the inquiry might explore, but he suggested a three-pronged approach. This would examine changes in higher education; expansion of higher education in further education colleges; and the rapid development of information technology.
"We have got to think through what it is we are trying to achieve. Should we all be thinking of entering higher education or is there a possible expansion of further education that would be desirable?This might mean going for partnership arrangements with higher education," he said.
"There is, of course, the question of where the money would come from. If we are thinking in terms of a cost-effective expansion of provision beyond advanced level we are going to have to turn fairly swiftly to the potential of information technology as the third partner in this," he added.
Advances in new technology and partnerships between further and higher education institutions both at home and abroad would provide the inquiry with a good starting point for its deliberations, he said.
Sir Ron said he also wanted to look at what qualities and values other countries attached to "graduateness" - a term coined by the Higher Education Quality Council.