Labour supports highest standards of probity

July 7, 1995

Readers of your editorial page (THES, June 23) might be forgiven for detecting a contradictory note. In one editorial you acknowledged that the Nolan committee will have much to look at during its examination of further and higher education; in the other, you criticised me for tackling issues of governance and suggested that this was "redolent of old Labour-style respect for producer priorities".

Of course, large educational institutions require effective management in rapidly changing environments. I make no apology, however, for arguing that the highest standards of probity must apply in the distribution of public funds and that staff and students should be valued and involved in decision-making structures. Indeed, I went further: as higher education assumes an increasingly critical role in economic and social development, structures of governance must reflect a responsiveness to a range of stakeholders who will become increasingly involved in new and fruitful partnerships with institutions. This has nothing whatsoever to do with "producer" priorities or threats to institutional autonomy. It is an analysis of the limitations of present narrow forms of governance in some institutions.

As regards top-up fees, I am happy to reiterate the Labour Party's profound opposition to the introduction of charges at the point of entry to higher education. Not only would top-up fees make entry to some institutions prohibitively expensive for students from lower-income backgrounds but such fees would also spell the final triumph of a rigidly stratified and differentially resourced higher education system.

Finally, it is a mite unfair to criticise us for sticking to an agreed timetable on policy documents which involve such complex and fundamental issues.

BRYAN DAVIES MP House of Commons

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