Willetts irked by postgraduate funding failure

David Willetts has expressed his "frustration" that the Browne Review did not address postgraduate funding, despite his own government's failure to resolve the issue.

December 22, 2011

Speaking this week at a debate at the British Academy on the future of humanities and social sciences, the universities and science minister said he had raised the issue of postgraduates with the former business secretary Lord Mandelson while in opposition. The conversation was part of cross-party discussions to consider the remit of Lord Browne's review of higher education funding, which eventually ignored the issue of postgraduate loans.

"I said to Peter Mandelson that he should include postgraduates," he told an audience on 19 December. "It is frustrating that the Browne report was just about undergraduates."

He added that it was a "big issue" and said that his department was investigating a solution. Mr Willetts' remarks followed a question by Nigel Vincent, the academy's vice-president (research and higher education policy), who said that the "piecemeal approach" to funding "misunderstood the integrated nature of a university".

The minister also rejected claims that the government was no longer supporting arts and humanities degrees after scrapping all teaching grants for classroom-based subjects.

He said a heavily subsidised student loan system meant the Treasury was still contributing towards these courses, even though the public-private split in funding had shifted.

"It looks like we have gone from a 60-40 split to a 40-60 split," he said.

Mr Willetts also scorned accusations that the UK was moving towards a US-style funding model, given that UK loan subsidies were far more generous than in the US.

Another speaker, Jonathan Bate, provost of Worcester College, Oxford, raised concerns over the "highly pragmatic and utilitarian" language used by politicians, whereby "everything has to be quantified".

Such language, driven by "technocrats and economists" in the civil service, framed the public discourse on humanities, he said, but it failed to consider, in the words of John Stuart Mill, "the beautiful [or] ethical".

jack.grove@tsleducation.com.

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