Local authorities prioritise access

February 14, 1997

THES looks at reaction to the DFEE's fourth Dearing submission, which queried standards and expansion

ACCESS to higher education must be extended, not squeezed, the local government associations told Sir Ron Dearing this week.

The Association of County Councils and the Association of Metropolitan Authorities, which will merge later this year to represent all local education authorities in England and Wales, presented oral evidence to Sir Ron's committee of inquiry into higher education earlier this week. In opposition to the Department for Education and Employment's assertion that the supply of graduates is beginning to outstrip economic demand, the associations insisted that "the watchword is access".

The associations endorse the principle laid out by the 1963 Robbins inquiry that higher education should be available to all qualified to receive and benefit from it. Funding should be focused on the needs of all students, they said. "The extension of higher education to a much higher proportion of our population requires emphasis on the part-time and distance education of older students," Sir Ron was told. The associations also made clear their distaste for tuition fees.

The existing funding system, they argued, is based on a "false assumption" that presumes full-time study by 18 to 21-year-olds away from home.

It strengthens an "anachronistic" division between vocational education and traditional higher education, it discriminates against the old and it discourages part-time study.

The associations' proposals include free tuition and a "graduate tax" or "a system of repayment through national insurance" for up to 20 years. Grants would be available for poorer students.

Local government would play a greater role in providing maintenance and tuition funding.

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