Money worries top list of Dearing concerns

September 19, 1997

The consultation period for Sir Ron Dearing's report ends on October 6. Alan Thomson examines some of the responses so far

Further Education Funding Council

COLLEGESmay have to restrict the number of degree courses they offer if they are forced into one-on-one partnerships with universities, the Further Education Funding Council has warned.

David Melville, FEFC chief executive, fears that a rigid application of recommendation 23 in the Dearing report could be problematic for colleges. The council will voice its concerns in its official response to the Dearing consultation, to be finalised next Thursday.

Recommendation 23 calls for an end to the practice of colleges running higher education courses franchised from a number of universities. It says that there should be a "normal presumption" that colleges should have only one university partner.

Professor Melville said that many colleges run degree courses under franchise from more than one university, allowing them to pick those best suited to their curricula.

The council was also likely to question the report's apparently strict demarcation between colleges and universities. Recommendation 67 said that there should be no growth in degree-level work in further education colleges.

Professor Melville said: "The whole thrust of our original submission to Dearing is that the amount of degree work in colleges should be determined by quality and standards and not by simple demarcation between the sectors and institutions."

The FEFC will stress the need for more money for colleges, but Professor Melville said that the council did not want funds transferred from higher to further education.

Association of Colleges

College students should receive more financial support that might include access to the same loans system as their university counterparts, further education chiefs say.

In its response to the Dearing consultation the Association of Colleges is expected to call for equity in student funding. The AoC is due to finalise its response at a meeting today.

John Brennan, further education development director, said that financial support was necessary for college students to encourage wider participation. Helena Kennedy stressed the same point in her recent report Widening Participation in Further Education.

Mr Brennan said: "Further education students have neither grants or loans, yet the sector supplies about 40 per cent of the entrants to higher education."

The AoC is almost certain to back higher education tuition fees and to use the argument to back its case for improved funding for further education students. It will also welcome Sir Ron Dearing's call for more sub-degree work in colleges.

Like the FEFC, the AoC is also concerned by the franchising restrictions on colleges recommended by the Dearing report.

Natfhe

Lecturers' union Natfhe will focus its Dearing consultation response on calling for increased public funding for higher education.

The union says that while the state cannot be expected to pick up the full tab, public funding for higher education should rise.

Liz Allen, head of higher education, said: "We are heavily critical on the funding issue. We do not accept that there is no more money for higher education."

Natfhe wants to know how institutions will implement recommendation 49 on equal opportunities for staff. It also wants to know whether the independent pay review body on pay will apply to part-time and fixed-term contract staff.

National Union of Students

The National Union of Students will maintain its opposition to tuition fees in its submission to the consultation on the Dearing report. But president Douglas Trainer said that while NUS was opposed to fees outright it was also likely to make suggestions as to how their expected implementation might be best achieved.

He said: "We are still asking the Government to hold fire on tuition fees for next year so that all the details can be worked out properly."

Association of University Teachers

The AUT will tackle the Dearing report and the Government on a number of issues when it submits its consultation response.

Priority will be given to the union's fears over the Pounds 900 million funding gap between 1998 and 2000. In an earlier response, submitted last month, general secretary David Triesman said: "We ask the Government to consider with the greatest urgency how such a sum is to be provided if acute damage is not to occur and if the Dearing recommendations are not to be undermined before they are considered and implemented."

He warned the Government not to follow Sir Ron's advice and lift the cap on student numbers until the cash is found to plug the funding gap. "The alternative is to repeat and compound the problems created by the previous government," Mr Triesman said.

The union says money could be raised by selling student loan debt, and that substantial sums should be raised from business.

The AUT will almost certainly call for legislation to prevent universities charging top-up fees. It will also continue its campaign for a permanent independent pay review body for academic and related staff.

Particular criticism is levied at Dearing's recommendations on research, which urge institutions to make strategic decisions about entering the research assessment exercise. The AUT says that this will lead to many sound departments dropping out of research and force promising young researchers into teaching-only roles.

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