Paper is short on 'long view'

May 9, 2003

Academics, medics, MPs and London's mayor attack the white paper's vision

MPs look set to attack the government's higher education white paper for its lack of a coherent, longer-term vision.

Members of the education and skills select committee met last week to finalise their report on the white paper, which was published in January.

There was broad agreement that the paper presents a range of often radical proposals but with little discussion of what higher education is for and what its various roles should be in the longer term.

Committee chairman Barry Sheerman said: "One of the things that will be coming out in our report is that the vision and long view does not seem to be quite there."

Mr Sheerman voiced concern about the proposal to further concentrate research funding by reducing cash awarded to department's rated 4 and creating a new 6* rating for top departments.

He said: "I think this is a bit of a leap in the dark and perhaps a case of not thinking through the changes in research funding and the effect on institutions."

Mr Sheerman questioned the government's assertion that there was no direct correlation between an institution carrying out research and the quality of its teaching. Ministers have argued this to justify cuts to lower-rated research departments.

He said: "Why is excellence in teaching and research inseparable at Cambridge but not anywhere else? It sounds like a case of what is good for the gander is not necessarily good for the goose."

The committee is also likely to make the case for better pay for academics.

Mr Sheerman said: "The white paper makes the case that our universities need more resources to remain internationally competitive but the money does not seem to be there to pay internationally competitive salaries to the people working in those universities. When the dust from the white paper and spending review settles, I think a lot of people in our universities are likely to get pay rises in line with inflation and little more."

There will be minority criticism of the white paper's proposal to charge top-up fees of up to £3,000. Three committee members signed an early-day motion in the last parliamentary session opposing top-up fees - Labour MPs Jeff Ennis and Kerry Pollard and Liberal Democrat Paul Holmes.

Mr Holmes, MP for Chesterfield, said he would seek to amend the committee's final report to call for the abolition of all tuition fees. Amendments and voting on them will be recorded in the final report.

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