Mission drift in sub-degree sea

October 10, 1997

New universities fight their corner against FE

A LOBBY group for the 1992 universities has slammed Dearing's call for more sub-degree work in further education colleges.

Responding to Sir Ron Dearing's committee of inquiry into higher education, the Coalition of Modern Universities, said: "The wholesale transfer of these courses to FE colleges would be a devastating blow to the new universities and would send the wrong signals on the importance of professional and vocational higher education."

While the coalition supports expansion of further education below sub-degree level, it says encouraging colleges to do more higher education work, such as Higher National Diplomas, could cause "mission drift". It fears colleges may withdraw from "less glamorous" FE work and new universities drift up to first degree and postgraduate work only.

"This cannot be in the interests of the goals of access and wider participation," the CMU states. "Nor can it be in the interests of the British people."

The coalition also criticises Dearing's report for neglecting part-time students and calls for them to be given equal access to funding with full-timers.

Members of the coalition say: "We are surprised that greater attention was not given to the funding of institutions and students on the basis of credit, irrespective of the full or part-time status of the learner."

While they support Dearing's call for weaker departments to opt out of the research assessment exercise, they want protection for small emerging research groups.

The coalition calls on the Government to commission a study into the value for money achieved by core funding of research in different institutions. It suggests a new funding formula to recognise "the important strategic work in universities which have not met the RAE criteria for excellence".

It also wants extra money to boost staff salaries and to establish a single set of conditions of service for old and new universities.

The CMU, which represents 26 institutions incorporated in 1992, was set up in the week the Dearing report was released.

It supports the tenet of the Dearing recommendations, particularly on widening participation and emphasis on teaching.

It describes tuition fees for students as "a necessary evil".

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