MPs insist funding cut decision lacks evidence

June 19, 2008

MPs have accused the Government of failing to base its policies on evidence after its decision to cut funding to students studying for second degrees.

A report from the House of Commons Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee in March said the £100 million cuts could "threaten the viability" of some universities and bore the hallmarks of a decision made in haste.

But in its official response, published this week, the Government says reallocating the money to those studying for a first degree that it previously spent on funding students studying for a higher education qualification at an equivalent or lower level to those they already hold, is "intrinsically fairer". It says this is "first and foremost an issue of principle, not analysis".

Commenting on concerns about possible unintended consequences of the policy, the Government says: "We have foreseen the consequences of our policy and, in our view, they are wholly acceptable. By contrast, doing nothing and failing to strengthen the incentives to produce more adults with higher-level skills is more likely over the longer term to produce unacceptable consequences."

Responding to the committee's claims that there was no firm evidence of significant unmet demand for higher education from first-time undergraduates, it says: "It is not a matter of 'demonstrating' that unmet demand exists. Rather, the argument is that there is an overwhelming economic imperative."

In a letter to John Denham, Phil Willis, chair of the committee, writes: "We are disappointed that the Government should not have accepted what appears to us to be an axiomatic principle of good government - that the reallocation of resources to meet a policy should be underpinned with evidence that it will change the behaviour of individuals or groups as the Government intends."

Wes Streeting, president of the National Union of Students, said the Government was "guilty of breathtaking arrogance" and had "completely disregarded ... overwhelming objections from across the sector".

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