Labour group seeks free tuition

December 17, 1999

Funding parity for university teaching and research, loans for part-time higher education students and free tuition in further education are just three of the radical proposals in a new book by Labour MPs.

In the book, Beyond 2002, 15 MPs and Katharine Raymond, director of the Social Market Foundation, propose policies for a Labour government entering its second term of office. The book was launched on Monday.

Gordon Marsden, MP for Blackpool South and a member of the education select committee, wrote the chapter on higher and further education. He calls for more money for university teaching.

He argues that this is necessary because graduates need proper skills in literacy, numeracy and information technology in order to exploit fully their specialist knowledge in the workplace.

He said: "This means that much greater attention must be lavished on the quality and impact of teaching ... assessment and funding incentives that put teaching ability into the same band as research achievements must be put into place."

Mr Marsden said that the

post-2002 settlement for higher education should make it mandatory for all vocational degrees to have work-experience elements and should encourage an examination of how this can be extended to cover all degree-level education.

He argues that the Dearing report failed to address the inequalities in funding between part-time and full-time higher education students. The report assumed wrongly that many of these people would get tuition fee support from employers.

Mr Marsden said: "The challenge facing the government is to leapfrog the various ameliorations announced since the Dearing report by making available a means-tested loan scheme to cover tuition costs for all part-time students in higher education."

A "common funding language" for all post-compulsory education could be created by extending

individual learning accounts. Upgraded public contributions and tax incentives could be used to encourage wider participation. The first million ILAs, due to become available from next September, will be credited with just Pounds 150 each.

Universal free tuition for all level three - equivalent to two A levels - education and training in further education should also be introduced, Mr Marsden said.

He suggests that this might be achieved by extending education maintenance allowances, currently being piloted in areas of high deprivation, which offer Pounds 40 per week to young people from low-income households if they stay on in full-time education beyond 16.

Speaking after Monday's launch, Mr Marsden said: "The Labour Party is actively looking at new ideas for the second term. Lifelong learning is the big initiative for the next century and we need to put flesh on the bones with some big and ambitious programmes."

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