Howells unveils tracking device

July 25, 1997

RIGOROUS ways to "identify and track" youngsters' education are being explored by the Government, including plans to compile data on students' progress through higher education, which may be used to help widen access and make institutions more accountable to employers.

The Department for Education and Employment has only "very patchy" educational data, lifelong learning minister Kim Howells said. It is planning to set up a database of educational information and statistics to help inform and evaluate policies.

Dr Howells said he hoped the moves would not be interpreted as the Government acting as "big brother", and added that more comprehensive statistics would be used to identify wasted public money, to clamp down on poor training and education, and to inform projects such as the University for Industry.

"Our information on training schemes, institutions, universities and schools is all very disparate," Dr Howells said. "If we can't identify and track people to wherever they end up, it's a very unsatisfactory way for a ministry to operate. We need to measure things much more systematically and track how well money is being spent." He said that the information may be used to clamp down on poor education provision. "There would be no point in putting money in some training scheme or another if we discover at the end that none of the kids get permanent jobs," he said.

Universities may also be subject to a lot more scrutiny. Information on social deprivation could be linked to university entrance figures to aid plans for widening access. "The inequity in the higher education system makes me sick to the stomach," said Dr Howells.

"Wide and rigorous" monitoring of a university's record on graduate employment would be feasible, he said, although it would be "more of an additional task", as the early focus would be on 14 to 21-year-olds.

The DFEE has invited consultation from the Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals, the Higher Education Funding Council, the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, the Higher Education Statistics Agency, as well as schools and educational bodies and careers services. Dr Howells said he hoped the process would be in motion in time for the lifetime learning white paper in autumn.

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