US policy inspires UK team

October 27, 2000

Government ought to provide seedcorn money to universities to help them set up professional student recruitment offices, a senior MP said this week.

Barry Sheerman, chairman of the House of Commons education select committee, said that this would help universities to recruit the brightest students from all walks of life.

A more professional approach is seen as necessary amid national concern that too few people from disadvantaged backgrounds go to university.

Staff should be hired to exploit alumni potential for donations and other networking benefits, he said. This would generate income with which to expand recruitment and alumni operations, he added.

Mr Sheerman, Labour MP for Huddersfield, said that the committee, which is due to produce a report on access to higher education before Christmas, had been impressed by recruitment at universities in the United States. The committee has recently returned from a fact-finding trip to the US.

He said that US universities, both public and private, were in a "different league" in terms of the scope of their access initiatives and the financial support they were able to provide for students from poorer backgrounds.

Institutions they visited had teams working on recruiting the brightest candidates from all social classes.

Mr Sheerman said: "I do not think we can just lift the US system and superimpose it on our universities, but there are serious lessons to be learnt."

The report is the first of three to be produced over the next six months. The others will look at higher education's role in enterprise and innovation and the balance between teaching and research in universities.

Meanwhile Liberal Democrat committee member Evan Harris said that he will press for higher education funding to be included in the inquiry.

Dr Harris said that there could be no realistic discussion about access without debating how the sector could afford it.

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