V-cs propose fee voucher scheme

April 30, 1999

Higher education fee vouchers should be introduced and universities should be allowed to charge more for some courses, vice-chancellors said this week.

They argued that such steps are necessary to help British higher education respond to growing demand and to the threat of increasing competition through globalisation and information technology.

In response to a paper on the future of higher education written by Howard Newby, vice-chancellor of Southampton University, the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals said there should be more flexibility in the funding method for teaching to allow institutions to diversify more and avoid being "locked into particular missions".

Funding methods also made it difficult for universities to pursue strategic alliances and regional collaborative arrangements with other universities, further education and the private sector.

A CVCP response paper suggests that "strategic alliances with the private sector would be necessary in the future to deal with the growing demand for higher education, especially among the working population".

The response suggests a phased move towards a more market-driven system of higher education funding and planning, with some intervention in the market permitted in specific areas, such as teacher training and medicine.

This could pave the way for the introduction of student vouchers to cover fees and price differentials between courses.

The paper says: "The pressure is building for fee differentials. The capping of student numbers means demand for higher education degree courses is unmet. Some deregulation is necessary to enable expansion, especially on the teaching side. Currently, regulation of the higher education market is too tight, which could be damaging to quality."

CVCP policy head Tony Bruce said vouchers and differential fees were worth considering, but it would be necessary first to gauge the impact of fees.

"These ideas are definitely coming on to the agenda. It is a question of seeing what the implications of such a move would be. It depends on when the political climate is likely to be receptive to such proposals," he said.

The response adds that some of the main threats are not global but come from within the United Kingdom, such as pressure to push the professions back towards work-based training.

It calls on the CVCP's longer-term strategy group to look further into possible ways of increasing flexibility in the sector, such as changes in the funding system, including the research assessment exercise, governance issues and the structure of the academic profession.

The CVCP will elect its new chairman today. Professor Newby and Roderick Floud, vice-chancellor of London Guildhall University, have been nominated.

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