Lib Dems to focus on funding

September 28, 2001

Graduate taxation and corporate endowment will be considered in a review of university funding announced by the Liberal Democrats in Bournemouth this week.

Education spokesman Phil Willis told The THES it was likely that the review, which is still to be approved by the party's policy committee, would be led by Liberal Democrat peer Baroness Sharp. He said Lady Sharp, education spokeswoman in the Lords and an honorary fellow of Sussex University, would not be expected to finalise the report until 2003, when the party intends to publish a revised overall education policy.

Mr Willis said: "As a party, we have concentrated almost exclusively on student poverty, entry to university and recognising the extent of student debt. These arguments are largely won.

"Now we want to look at the funding of institutions. A graduate tax is one option. It may be that we will have to go back to our student finance policy to see how this may fit with the university funding review. We will also look at the private sector and how it may be encouraged to endow universities."

The party reviewed student finances last year. It supports an arrangement in England similar to that proposed by the Cubie review in Scotland - which was partly implemented by the Scottish Executive - where tuition fees are abolished and grant support reintroduced.

Lady Sharp said: "There are hundreds of issues arising in higher education - including widening access and who pays for that expansion as well as the issue of staff salaries - none of which has really been covered. It raises the question of 'where is the money going to come from?'" The review will have to be put to the party's federal policy committee for approval. Lady Sharp hopes to be appointed chair.

Earlier in the conference, Mr Willis announced the party's review of schools and further education policy chaired by John Howson. Professor Howson is managing director of Education Data Surveys and a member of the party's education policy group.

Professor Howson, who wants the review done before next year's conference, said there was scope for examining the links between higher education and the further education and schools sectors.

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