Fryer proposes Ofsted for universities

November 28, 1997

UNIVERSITIES would be subject to the same quality assurance inspection regime as schools and colleges, and they would have to demonstrate a commitment to widening access as a condition of public funding under plans put to the government this week by its National Advisory Group for the lifelong learning white paper.

Bob Fryer's group has steered clear of a direct call to redistribute public money from higher into further education. It has called for more money for both sectors.

But its report suggests that redistribution is necessary. Professor Fryer calls for "a shift in the overall balance of funding within and between forms and levels of learning activity". This would involve "a planned incremental shift of public resources to stimulate and support involvement in lifelong learning from those individuals and groups who are currently excluded".

The report also says that some students should pay more. "Established students over 19, with the ability to pay, would need to pay more of the costs of provision", it said, leaving the option to increase tuition fees open.

Professor Fryer denied that ministers had watered down his recommendations. "I want this new vision to be embraced by government and by all funders and providers of education," he said. But he acknowledged that there were "sticks among the carrots".

"Government should be prepared to use the whole panoply of its powers, including funding and resource allocation, legislation and statutory intervention" to achieve the revolution, said the report.

Professor Fryer wants the further and higher education funding councils to "modify their methodologies" to give priority to widening participation. He said institutions should "seek to show year-on-year improvements in widening participation and some elements of recurrent funding should be tied to this".

The link between funding and access would be underpinned by a sweeping new quality assurance regime, in which the new Quality Assurance Agency would be expected to work on joint enquiries under a common framework with the Office for Standards in Education and the FEFC.

"Government should encourage early discussions between the main education inspectorates, with a view to moving towards the harmonisation and standardisation of quality assurance systems across the sectors," said the report.

Other recommendations are:

* to extend means-tested loans to all part-time students

* All post-16 qualifications to be unit-based within a system of credit accumulation and transfer

* Individual learning accounts to be open to all in employment

* A new National Millennium Foundation to be established to provide extra money for widening participation

* Student loans to be removed from national accounting

* Post codes to be used to identify under-represented groups, with funding incentives to institutions who recruit from them.

* Lifelong learning pull-out, i-iv

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