Lib Dems rethink degrees

September 23, 2005

Students could dip in and out of different universities as they accumulate credits for a degree under plans being considered by the Liberal Democrats, The Times Higher has learnt.

Ed Davey, the party's education spokesman, said that his team was brainstorming new policy ideas - including possible changes to the way degrees are taught and the traditional relationship between students and institutions.

In an interview at the Liberal Democrat conference in Blackpool, Mr Davey said: "Our initial brainstorming on secondary education has looked at whether or not a pupil can attend one institution - where they get most of their education and pastoral care - and also receive tuition at another school if there are parts of the curriculum that aren't being provided.

"The question is how much that could be done in higher education. We haven't discussed the detail, but it is an idea we'd want to look at positively," he added.

Last year, the Burgess report on measuring and recording student achievement recommended that English universities adopt a credit framework - a move that would ease the movement of students between institutions.

However, Mr Davey also confirmed that the Liberal Democrats' anti-tuition fees stance was under review amid growing speculation that the party will abandon the policy that would have paid for free higher education - the 50 per cent top rate of income tax.

"At the beginning of a Parliament after a general election every policy is under review, although there are some that we are more likely to keep than others," he said.

But Mr Davey added: "There is already growing evidence that our warnings about tuition fees are coming to fruition, and whether it will produce new money for universities is highly questionable - we know that the Treasury wants to claw money back.

"If the experience of [former Education Secretary David] Blunkett's original tuition fees are anything to go by, top-up fees won't provide extra money. In fact we are worried that there will be a crisis in higher education funding in 18 months."

The results of a poll undertaken for The Times Higher before the general election suggested that the combination of the anti-tuition fees policy and the Liberal Democrats' opposition to the UK's involvement in the Iraq War would attract students and academic voters away from the Labour Party.

paul.hill@thes.co.uk

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