The Robbins principles which have underpinned higher education policy for the past 30 years should be updated, say the ministries responsible for education, in a paper to go to the Dearing committee.
The paper, Purposes of Higher Education, published this week by the Department for Education and Employment, the Scottish Office, the Welsh Office and the Northern Ireland Office is based on responses to the Government's 1994 review of higher education, since overtaken by Dearing.
It points to a "a wide consensus that we should preserve the best of the Robbins objectives while adapting them to changes in higher education and the world around".
The most important of these changes is that higher education is now a local and international resource as well as a national one.
It proposes six updated aims: * imparting employment skills * providing opportunities for life-long learning * promoting the general powers of the mind * advancing learning and research * promoting culture and high standards in all aspects of society * serving local and regional communities, as well as national interests at home and abroad.
The consultation raised several controversial points - in particular the concentration of research funding and the balance between research and teaching. Several groups, including the Confederation of British Industry, called for competency-based assessment. The Royal Society argued that honours classifications should be abolished.