V-cs rail against two-tier threat

December 20, 2002

Vice-chancellors have warned the government not to create a two-tier system of higher education by taking research degree-awarding powers away from some universities and further concentrating research funding.

"All higher education institutions benefit from the vital interdependence of teaching and research, and to split these would be highly damaging to the sector," said the vice-chancellors' lobby group, Universities UK, in response to a discussion paper on higher education put out by the Department for Education and Skills late last month.

In their response, higher education colleges called for a halt to increases in research selectivity to protect the development of new and emerging disciplines.

The Standing Conference of Principals said that to provide research funding to elite institutions would only "ossify the sector" and could make the UK less research competitive.

Further education college heads also oppose the suggestion that institutions should specialise in teaching or research. "While colleges delivering higher education tend to focus on teaching rather than research, the quality of that teaching is often supported by wider scholarly activity," said the Association of Colleges.

All three organisations are trying to influence the government's strategy document, which is expected in January.

Roderick Floud, president of UUK, said: "Artificial restrictions on the sector, imposed by government or funding council, will lead to ossification and decline."

Earlier this month, education secretary Charles Clarke suggested that research funding was spread too thinly and called for universities to specialise. But UUK said this week that public funding of research was already more concentrated in the UK than in its competitors worldwide.

"Selectivity in the system should go no further, and it is crucial that the outstanding results of the 2001 research assessment exercise be fully funded," UUK said.

It warned that any restriction on the awarding of PhDs would take the UK out of line with the rest of Europe, where the definition of a university relies on the power to award such degrees. A two-tier system could also hit the recruitment of international students and damage industry links.

Repeating demands made in its submission to the 2002 spending review, UUK called for an extra £9.94 billion over three years. On fees, it said:

"Charging high up-front fees to students would be damaging to widening participation. Students should have the option to defer fees until after graduation."

UUK chief executive Diana Warwick said: "Whatever solution is reached for the higher education sector's investment needs, it must address the whole sector and not lead to fragmentation and a tiered system. UUK is particularly disturbed by increasing emphasis on so-called 'top'

universities, defined very narrowly."

In its response, Scop argued that every higher education institution should receive some core funding to support a broad range of research. It said:

"We need a system based on dynamic diversity, with institutions continuing to evolve and develop in response to the growing and changing needs of students, employers and the wider community."

The AoC complained that the discussion paper failed to acknowledge further education's role in meeting the 50 per cent participation target.

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