V-cs attack VAT and pay levels

January 17, 1997

VAT REGULATIONS and other "unnecessary and intrusive" rules and financial constraints on universities should be scrapped, the Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals has told the Dearing inquiry's working group on staff and cost-effectiveness.

The issue was raised at a December meeting attended by directors of finance, estates and personnel from several universities and representatives of the Commission on University Career Opportunity. It gave the CVCP a chance to stress its evidence to Dearing about staffing and other resource issues.

The CVCP told the working group that VAT rules hindered collaborations between institutions and were a financial drain. "With scarce resources, the maximum level of funds needs to be channelled to teaching and research activities and not to the demands from non-productive external bodies," the delegates said.

Pay levels were also discussed. The CVCP said university staff wages must be comparable with other professions and reflect productivity gains. While an independent pay review could set appropriate salary levels, it would only be effective if fully funded.

Although institutions had adopted a strategic approach to estate management, the working group was told that facilities could only be maintained and developed with increased investment.

At another meeting, representatives of the CVCP's finance, resources and management group and the Standing Committee of Principals told Dearing's funding working group that income-contingent loans for maintenance, and possibly tuition fees, was the solution to funding problems.

The formation of a humanities research council was supported and the CVCP will brief the inquiry further on the idea. Retaining the dual support system for research was favoured. On the question of local authorities, the CVCP highlighted late payment problems for fees and maintenance and said the LEA system was now "outdated".

Meanwhile, to prepare for further oral evidence to Dearing, the CVCP will discuss its policy on two-year courses at today's council meeting. The written submission said first-degree courses lasting three to five years should remain.

Members will be invited to comment on the cases for shorter degree courses, expanding sub-degree higher education courses, and the relationship between further and higher education.

The meeting will also be told of plans to implement recommendations from the Harris review of postgraduate education. The first stage will be to develop a typology of classifications about postgraduate education, to be conducted by the Higher Education Quality Council. In the second, the Higher Education Career Services Unit and HEQC will explore methods of standardising postgraduate award nomenclature, possibly on the basis of an agreed credit framework.

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