Hefce chief stands by policy comments

The head of England's funding council has maintained that government policy on higher education contains "contradictions", despite being "in trouble" for his comments.

April 5, 2012

Sir Alan Langlands, chief executive of the Higher Education Funding Council for England, originally discussed supposed contradictions within government policy at a press conference on March, held to outline Hefce's 2012-13 funding allocations.

At that event, Times Higher Education asked Sir Alan whether Hefce was worried that the government's AAB policy could potentially hinder social mobility. In answering, he highlighted the government's commitment to fair access and said Hefce's role was to "try and make sure we didn't have contradictory government policies working against each other".

His comment, which he said applied to several issues and not just to AAB, was reported by THE on 29 March. Sir Alan stuck to his guns when he spoke at a conference on higher education provision in further education later that day, held by the Association of Colleges in London.

Sir Alan told the audience: "I've been in trouble this morning for saying that some of the things we did in our resource allocation decisions the other day were conditioned by the fact that we were dealing with contradictory government policies.

"That wasn't a well-received message. But it is the reality. There are contradictions in the current policy environment in higher education. There are certainly contradictions at the boundary between HE and FE."

The government's core-and-margin system has deducted 20,000 places from universities in 2012-13, allocating them to lower-fee universities and further education colleges.

Some universities have reacted by withholding places previously offered in further education colleges through partnership agreements.

Sir Alan suggested that cost worries within government were delaying an announcement on the future extent of the policy - a view that appeared to be at odds with that of Vince Cable, the business secretary, when he spoke at the conference.

Fielding an audience question on the level of core and margin in 2013-14, Sir Alan said: "There has not been a decision. At least if there is, we don't know about it yet."

He added: "There are people in BIS [the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills] and at the centre of government who are worried about financial volatility."

But when Mr Cable was asked about the policy for 2013-14, he said the coalition was trying to balance opening up the system with "resistance" from universities that felt "destabilised" by competition.

"The straight answer is there will be more core-margin, I'm certain of that, but how quickly it's introduced...we're still having to ponder."

john.morgan@tsleducation.com

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