London sounds fees warning

November 22, 1996

THES reporters round up the latest submissions to the Dearing Inquiry. UNIVERSITY of London colleges have warned that they will have to charge fees to prevent further deterioration of courses and facilities in the face of "damaging" cuts.

If the Government fails to arrest a decline in quality and restore funding to "something like its previous level", then extra resources needed "will have to be provided by other means", they say.

This is "likely to mean contributions by students, whether before or after graduation". Though the university's colleges "would naturally prefer a system which allows the student to defer his or her contribution until after graduation", they add that their imperative "is to restore, ie increase, our income before the damage is irreversible".

The committee of inquiry is also warned against developing more higher education in further education colleges. The colleges fear "a further devaluation of the UK university degree" if the franchising of degree level studies to FE institutions continues.

* The Higher Education Quality Council says that "a commitment to quality assurance is not yet embedded in the activities of all members of staff", although almost all institutions monitor their own courses, facilities and standards.

The rapid growth in collaborative arrangements between institutions at home and overseas is leading to "altered perceptions of what the higher education experience is and what a higher education award from the UK means".

But the biggest challenge to higher education is to protect academic standards. New approaches are needed as the sector becomes bigger and more diverse.

*New technology may be the key to allowing academics to remain active in research while their institutions lose research funding, according to the Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals.

Gareth Roberts, chairman of the CVCP, said at the launch of its evidence to Dearing that all academic staff "ought to engage in scholarship and research", but that they need not do so at their main place of employment. New technology would allow academics to collaborate in research teams based at a small number of research-intensive universities.

Dr Roberts said that the CVCP supports the idea of a pay review body for academics, but said that it might well recommend increases that were so large that they had to be phased in.

* All students in higher education must have greater access to business and management education to ensure the future health of the economy, the Association of Business Schools argues.

The ABS also warns against the "outside threat" of rapidly emerging "corporate universities", where companies teach their own degrees. They argue that the Government should be attracting funding by matching private benefactors pound for pound.

* Skill - the National Bureau for Students with Disabilities - has called for the Disability Discrimination Act to be applied to universities and colleges.

The Act requires the funding councils to "have regard to the requirements of disabled persons" and ensure that institutions publish disability statements, but does not require them to accept or provide for disabled students.

* Further and higher education institutions should be encouraged to have closer links, but there should be no fudging of the distinction between the two and no "mission drift", according to the Educational Institute of Scotland.

The higher education participation rate cannot be determined nationally, it says, since this depends on the number of qualified young people, which should not be subject to any arbitrary cap, and the demand among adult returners, some of whom will opt for distance learning. The funding debate is being unhelpfully distorted by the emphasis on students paying fees. In the absence of a return to full grants, it urges Dearing to consider the Commission on Scottish Education's recommendation of an Australian-type system of student contributions, although it disagrees with the commission that students should pay a fixed proportion of their tuition fees.

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