Higher education minister Baroness Blackstone

February 6, 1998

Higher education minister Baroness Blackstone has told representatives of lecturers' union Natfhe that the government is committed to "mass higher education".

At a meeting this week arranged by Natfhe to lobby for the interests of the new universities, Baroness Blackstone said further and higher education should be partners rather than competitors.

While the government supported selectivity, it did not want over-selectivity. It believed collaboration in research should become more important.

Natfhe general secretary Paul Mackney said: "We felt confident we are dealing with someone who understands what new universities and colleges of higher education are all about. It isn't always recognised that we deliver the majority of undergraduate teaching and twice as many part-time undergraduate students, if you remove the Open University. Many of the characteristics that must be part of an expanded higher education system were pioneered in our sector."

But Baroness Blackstone gave Natfhe no promises about extra money for universities.

At a tuition fee debate last week, she admitted academics were underpaid, saying universities faced a "financial crisis" with "not enough books in libraries, not enough seats, underpaid academics, research staff on short contracts ... and a serious problem of maintaining the sort of studies in British universities that have made them internationally acclaimed for the past 50 years".

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