MPs have called for England’s regulator to “publish strict criteria on acceptable levels” of vice-chancellors’ pay, for universities to publish breakdowns of how fees are spent, and for higher education to shift “away from the traditional three-year degree model to a more flexible, less linear approach”.
The Education Committee’s report on Value for Money in Higher Education, published on 5 November, also urges the government to “address the regressive system of student support which has led to the decline in part-time and mature learner numbers”, with a shift to a funding model “which allows a range of flexible options including credit transfer and ‘hopping on and off’ learning”.
The committee also recommends that, “based on the overwhelming evidence we have heard during the inquiry”, the government should reintroduce maintenance grants, which were abolished from 2016.
The report comes amid the government’s ongoing review of post-18 education, led by Philip Augar.
The committee, chaired by Conservative MP Rob Halfon, opens the report by saying: “The current review of post-18 education and funding offers the government the opportunity to reshape the sector.
“We believe that the future of higher education should be more skills-based leading to appropriate professional graduate-level and skilled employment destinations. Higher education must become more flexible and focused on helping students from disadvantaged backgrounds climb the ladder of opportunity.”
The report also says: “Elite universities should no longer exclusively be understood as those who deliver the traditional linear three-year undergraduate degree, but also those who offer degree apprenticeships, have a strong focus on work experience and offer flexible learning such as modular courses and accelerated degrees.”
On vice-chancellors’ pay, the report cites the Times Higher Education annual survey of vice-chancellors’ pay, which “showed that vice-chancellors were paid an average of £268,103 in salary, bonuses and benefits” in 2016-17, as well as highlighting the widely criticised £471,000 pay package for former University of Bath vice-chancellor Dame Glynis Breakwell.
The committee calls “unjustifiably high pay for senior management” the “norm rather than the exception”.
In their recommendations, the MPs say: “The current system of self-regulation for senior management pay is totally unacceptable. We call for the Office for Students to publish strict criteria for universities on acceptable levels of pay that could be linked to average staff pay, performance and other measures that the Office for Students sees fit.”
The MPs say that every higher education institution “should publish a breakdown of how tuition fees are spent on their websites”, which should happen by the end of 2018, “and we recommend that the Office for Students intervenes if this deadline is not met”.
On mature and part-time students, another recommendation says that the recent decline in numbers of these students “should be a major focus of the government’s post-18 education and funding review. We support calls for the review to redesign the funding system for these learners. The review should develop a tailored approach which moves away from the one-size-fits-all approach which has driven the dramatic decline in numbers since 2012.”
Other recommendations from the committee include a call for “a move away from the simple use of entry tariffs as a league table measure” and support for the use of contextual admissions “to bring more students from lower socio-economic backgrounds into higher education”. The MPs also recommend that the Institute for Apprenticeships should “make the growth of degree apprenticeships a strategic priority” and that all higher education institutions should offer degree apprenticeships.