Will Wednesday be Winsday?

July 18, 1997

The culmination of more than a year's research, analysis and thought on higher education by some of the key figures in academe and industry will be packed into an oversized "shoebox" by Sir Ron Dearing next week.

The committee of inquiry has produced ten documents with five appendices that run to 1,700 pages and include 122 recommendations. The 6kg package, divided into three sections - an executive summary, a main 24-chapter report and a report on Scotland - is expected to be delivered on Wednesday.

The THES has kept a close eye on the report's development. Here is a summary of some of the recommendations readers can expect.

Funding and student support

The committee will recommend the introduction of a Pounds 1,200 annual fee, payable by all students wishing to enter a recognised full-time higher education course. The extra money raised- about Pounds 1.2 billion a year - should be used to stave off the funding crisis facing most institutions as a result of cuts in state support.

Loans would be available to cover fees as well as living costs, but only those students below a means-tested threshold will be eligible. Students taking out a loan will receive a voucher to take to wherever they wish to study.

Maintenance grants will be available for a greater number of poorer students, but this group will still have to pay fees. Part-time students will not have access to loans.

Students will be able to pay back loans on an income-contingent basis. But the committee will advise against selling off student debt to the private sector.

A tax-free higher education savings plan scheme, similar to Tessas and Peps, may be launched to help students and their parents cover fees and maintenance costs.

Employees may be able to invest in learning accounts, which could benefit from contributions from employers, to pay for part-time and sandwich courses.

Research

The committee will recommend increasing selectivity in funding for research. Weaker research departments would be invited to opt out of the research assessment exercise and take a nominal grant to boost academic scholarship and teaching instead.

Regional centres of research excellence for subject areas should be set up. Support for the centres may come from a new regional research fund.

A loans scheme backed by top companies may be introduced to fund laboratory equipment.

The committee is expected to recommend a reshuffle of cash between funding councils and research councils, and within research council funding priorities, to increase research councils' contribution to overheads costs from 45 to 60 per cent.

Teaching, quality and standards

A new national credit accumulation and transfer and qualifications framework, based on the Scottish model, should be developed by the new Quality Assurance Agency for higher education.

Responsibility for a new quality assurance system will also be in the hands of the QAA. The agency will be expected to focus more on the achievements of students.

Institutions should be required to be clearer about their standards and learning objectives, which will then be tested by the QAA.

A new Teaching and Learning Institute should be set up to promote good practice and innovation in teaching, fund research into improving teaching methods and have responsibility for new qualifications for lecturers. The institute will teach students how to manage their own learning and develop the habit of lifelong learning.

Top-quality teaching may be rewarded with extra cash, encouraging academics and departments to become teaching specialists.

There should be a student representative on the QAA.

Regionalism

Regional collaboration between further and higher education will be encouraged. The budgets may be top-sliced to contribute to a regional collaboration fund, with contributions from Government departments and Training and Enterprise Councils. The money may also help boost regional partnerships with industry.

New regional research centres of excellence may be created for subject areas, with all institutions in the region entitled to use the centre's facilities.

Academic staff

All institutions should introduce a core programme of lecturer training to improve teaching.

There should be some kind of pay review for academics, possibly including the creation of a pay review body.

Information technology

Institutions will be urged to rethink the way they use information technology. There should be better management of staff and student time involving IT, freeing up lecturers to spend more hours concentrating on smaller groups and tutorials. A review of IT-based learning may be directed by the Teaching and Learning Institute.

Scotland

Existing arrangements for funding further and higher education in Scotland should be managed by a single funding council, with separate divisions for the two sectors.

There should be a shift away from the four-year honours degree to a three-year version, except in professional subject areas.

Teacher training

There should be a new national minimum entry standard for initial teacher-training courses. A new graduate fast-track into the teaching profession may be recommended.

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