Ministries split over value of funding second degrees

March 20, 2008

One government department is at loggerheads with another over cuts in funding for students studying second degrees, it emerged this week.

Correspondence leaked to Times Higher Education reveals that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport has accused the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills of risking damage to the country's "world leader status" in the creative industries, due to its decision to withdraw funding for students studying for higher education qualifications equivalent to, or lower than, those they already hold.

The letter to the DIUS, written by Alan Davey when he was director of culture at the Department for Culture (he left in February to become chief executive of the Arts Council), calls for "safety net" funding provided to universities to soften the blow of ELQ cuts to be extended to cover the culture, media and sports industries.

He argues that there is an ongoing demand to train people working in the creative industries.

"The need to stay on the cutting edge of technology is paramount to their success. We are concerned that plans to cut funding to individuals undertaking ELQs may seriously affect the competitiveness of the creative industries in this country and damage our world leader status."

As 95 per cent of all creative and cultural businesses employ fewer than ten people, and many employees are freelance, Mr Davey also argues that plans to increase the number of employers who co-fund their employees' higher education "is unrealistic".

Martin Williams, director of the higher education strategy team at the DIUS, makes no concessions.

He writes in response: "We do not accept that it is impossible for employers in the creative industries to get involved in the new opportunities which are opening up."

He makes clear that the Government will be taking a hard line when it comes to widening the range of subjects exempt from ELQ cuts in future years.

He says that if the Higher Education Funding Council for England finds evidence of a fall in demand in a particular subject, it will advise the DIUS on the scope to increase interest from those without a degree, on whether there is adequate provision of foundation degrees, and whether there is potential for more employer co-funding.

Only then, Mr Williams says, will Hefce look at whether there is a case for exempting entrants with an ELQ.

rebecca.attwood@tsleducation.com.

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