Hefce’s days numbered if Lib Dems triumph

Manifesto targets ‘wasteful quango’ for the chop, announces phased abolition of tuition fees and promises end to 50 per cent participation target. Melanie Newman reports

April 14, 2010

The Higher Education Funding Council for England would be scrapped under plans laid out in the Liberal Democrat general election manifesto, published today.

The funding council is described in the document as a “wasteful quango”, and would be merged with the Skills Funding Agency to form a single Council for Adult Skills and Higher Education if the Lib Dems gain the keys to power on 6 May.

While the party vows to scrap the government’s target of 50 per cent of young people attending university (which Labour itself has superseded with a wider 75 per cent objective), it would also “start discussions” with universities and schools about a trial scheme under which the best students from the lowest-achieving schools would be guaranteed university places.

Tuition fees would be phased out over six years and a national student bursary scheme set up. Bursaries would be awarded to students studying “strategic subjects such as sciences and mathematics” and to those suffering financial hardship.

The Lib Dems also pledged to do more to support science.

“Despite government rhetoric, overall public funding of science in real terms is no higher than it was two decades ago,” the manifesto says. “Britain’s research and development spend as a proportion of gross domestic product remains near the bottom of the G8 countries.”

The party promises no extra cash, but vows to ring-fence the science budget and ensure that all state-funded research, including clinical trials, is published, publicly accessible and subject to peer review.

It also promises that decisions on the funding of research projects would not be subject to Whitehall interference or made on the basis of “narrow impact factors”.

In a response to the case of David Nutt, the drugs adviser sacked by the Home Office last year, the party says it would amend the Ministerial Code to stop ministers “bullying or mistreating advisers and distorting evidence or statistics”.

The manifesto also includes a pledge to tackle the gender gap at all levels of scientific study to help increase the supply of scientists.

Launching the document, Nick Clegg, leader of the Lib Dems, said: “The basic idea that animates this manifesto is something I have always believed: I believe every single person is extraordinary.

“The tragedy is that we have a society where too many people never get to fulfil that extraordinary potential. My view – the liberal view – is that the government’s job is to help them to do it.”

melanie.newman@tsleducation.com

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