Lib Dems want better teaching and no fees

Party policy would also abandon 50% target and revamp PhD training, writes Melanie Newman

February 12, 2009

Institutions that require all lecturers to hold a teaching qualification should be given more public cash, the Liberal Democrats have said.

A policy document on higher and further education, released ahead of the party's education-focused conference in March, suggests that the Higher Education Funding Council for England should reward institutions that make the Certificate in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education mandatory for all new lecturing staff.

The Investing in Talent, Building the Economy report recommends that Hefce work with the Quality Assurance Agency to "develop a ... recognised qualification that should first be introduced as an element of PhD programmes".

This would initially be introduced for new lecturers, then extended to all teachers in the sector.

The Lib Dems also rejected the Government's target of getting 50 per cent of the UK's under-30s into higher education as "simplistic". The document says: "We will ensure that expansion takes place among under-represented groups or in areas of study that are of maximum benefit."

It also outlines plans to force all universities to maintain and publish different entry criteria for students from different educational backgrounds to promote fairness.

A third policy would see the number of doctoral programmes cut in areas where there are few postdoctoral posts.

The document proposes focusing funding to ensure that remaining PhD programmes offer "more preparation for career-building". An extra year could be used, spread throughout the period of study, to "learn new research methods, get additional exposure to industry ... spend time teaching the subject in state schools, doing public engagement and spending time attached to different research groups to identify potential career opportunities".

Nick Clegg, the party leader, also reiterated the Lib Dems' commitment to scrap undergraduate tuition fees. Announcing the party's spending plans this week, he said he would use £7 billion saved from scrapping Government schemes such as the Child Trust Fund and IT projects to pay for full- and part-time degrees.

His stance conflicts with comments made in September 2008 by Stephen Williams, Lib Dem Shadow Universities Secretary, who told Times Higher Education that the party planned to drop its opposition to fees as it was "not sustainable".

He said that Mr Clegg had come to this conclusion after "long internal discussions", but that "strong opposition" from within the party was likely.


The policy document also sets out plans to:

- merge the Skills Funding Agency and the Higher Education Funding Council for England into a new Council for Adult Skills and Higher Education, with responsibility for all post-19 education and skills, and a budget of £9 billion. Adult education and higher education cash would be ring-fenced, with a separate board to oversee research money

- require publication of all publicly funded research, including non-classified government- commissioned research, "subject to ... commercial confidentiality"

- set up a Strategic Research Capacity Fund to reallocate £100 million of research funding for areas of strategic importance that are not "well developed"

- reform visa arrangements that make it difficult for scholars and students to come to the UK

- improve the International English Language Testing System to make it more relevant for university entry.

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