Sir Alan Langlands' report on graduate recruitment is calling for additional bursaries to boost uptake in medicine, law and teaching. Paul Hill reports
Universities and employers could boost recruitment to the graduate professions by offering extra bursaries to undergraduates on relevant degree courses - even better-off students who do not qualify for state support, according to an official report.
Sir Alan Langlands, vice-chancellor of Dundee University, published his report Gateways to the Professions last Wednesday with a call for industry and universities to do more to promote graduate careers in public and private sector professions.
Sir Alan's report records that there are concerns in the professions that the £3,000 tuition fee might put some people off higher education.
But he says that there is "no evidence" that the introduction of tuition fees in 1998 deterred students from going to university.
Nevertheless, Sir Alan recommends that universities and employers consider creating bursaries linked to courses that might lead to careers in medicine, teaching, social care, law, engineering or architecture.
"In particular, they should consider offering bursaries to students who are not eligible for the full grant and who may be deterred because of the cost of entering the profession," the report concludes. The move could result in more financial support for students from middle-income homes.
Sir Alan was asked to examine the problems of graduate recruitment in February 2004 by Charles Clarke, who was Education Secretary at the time.
The report was seen as a means of appeasing concerns on the Labour back benches about the potential impact of the fee and bursary system, as laid out in the Higher Education Bill, on the jobs market.
Last week, The Times Higher reported that members of consultative panels involved in the Langlands report were concerned that it would "fudge" the issue of tuition fees and whether students on some courses should have their debts written off or receive fee discounts.
But publishing the report this week, Bill Rammell, the Higher Education Minister, said that he accepted all of Sir Alan's recommendations - adding that he would serve as chairman of a new "graduate recruitment forum" of industry leaders and figures from higher education.
He said the Government would also provide £6 million over the next three years to professional bodies or institutions with new ideas about boosting graduate recruitment to target industries.
"Sir Alan Langlands has done a good report, very thorough," Mr Rammell said.
"I intend that the forum have a key role in a making sure policies are developed on the basis of clear evidence of what is happening on the ground.
"The overall aim is to broaden access to the professions."
Mr Rammell stressed that the new forum would not be a "talking shop", adding that it was essential to "pull together the professions and open them up".
John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, welcomed the proposed forum and said tuition fees were "bound to have an impact" on recruitment to the teaching profession, particularly in maths and science.
But he said: "By challenging universities and professional bodies to provide bursaries and come up with the solutions, the Government is merely laying the issue on someone else's doorstep."
David Gordon, chairman of the Council of Heads of Medical Schools, said that the medical profession had a long history of offering financial support and scholarships to students.
Professor Gordon added: "I think the inquiry was a necessary process to broaden understanding of entry to the professions - and not just the professions that are often at the forefront of people's minds, such as medicine."
Chris Ellis, acting director of education for the Royal Institute of British Architects, also welcomed the recommendations for a new forum and the creation of a £6 million "development fund" by the Government.
Mr Ellis said that despite the profession's efforts to widen access, there was a "real fear that debt and fear of debt will take architecture back to the old days when it was a white, male middle-class enclave".
The Law Society declined to comment before seeing the full report.