Select Committee on Education and Employment Sixth Report



  69. Funding per student has fallen by 38 per cent in real terms since 1989, following a decrease of 20 per cent between 1976 and 1989.[133] Universities and colleges which primarily have a teaching mission have not benefited to the same extent as research-focused institutions from the recent increases in funding for research.[134] The universities that have taken the lead in widening access are those most affected by problems of poor staff:student ratios and the increase in part-time and hourly-paid staff. In the light of the labour market analysis[135] and other concerns, we recommend that the Government should give very careful consideration to any further expansion in the number of places in higher education and ensure, before proceeding, that such expansion is fully funded and that existing places can be filled with students who are successfully retained.

70. Baroness Blackstone told the Education Sub-committee that funding per student will increase in real terms for 2001-02, for the first time in well over a decade.[136] We recommend that the Government's priority of widening access and improving retention in higher education should be reflected by sustained overall increases on a per student basis in the level of funding for teaching.


  71. Students' decisions to withdraw from their study are likely to be based on a complex interaction of a range of factors. We were concerned by the comments of Professor Claire Callender who said that research into this area was very difficult because of a paucity of data. She told the Sub-committee that:

Mr Bahram Bakhradnia, Director of Policy at HEFCE, accepted that more information of this kind would be helpful, but he did not think it was correct to say that there were no longitudinal studies. Mr Bekhradnia said that the UK probably had a better understanding of non-completion than any other country because of HEFCE's work in linking together the available data sets on students in higher education.[138]

72. We recognise that the many structural changes in the higher education sector over the last 20 years have made more difficult the task of assembling consistent data sets which can be compared to establish trends in the performance of the higher education system. Nevertheless it is important that policy-makers should have a clear understanding of the factors that contribute to non-completion. HEFCE's written submission to us highlighted on-going research into the causes of non-completion.[139] We recommend that HEFCE should give the highest priority to publishing their research on non-completion. We recommend that the HEFCE research on non-completion should be complemented by regular and more detailed studies of institutions where non-completion is significantly above the benchmark rate of comparable colleges and universities. We also recommend that HEFCE, working with other bodies such as the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service and the Higher Education Statistics Agency, should establish more robust mechanisms to ensure sufficient data are available more swiftly, so that the nature, extent and causes of non-completion, and how these factors change over time, may be analysed.


  73. Dr Peters of the Open University drew the Sub-committee's attention to the "binary line" which still persists between full-time and part-time status:

The Minister noted that the funding mechanism for higher education institutions was based on the previous year's student full-time equivalent numbers plus any additional students as part of a bidding process. This was adjusted only where institutions significantly over-or under-recruited.[141] HEFCE explained that changing mode from full-time to part-time during the year was a fairly rare event,[142] which was not explicitly dealt with in HEFCE's documentation, though it might be amended for next year. The guidance given by HEFCE's Analytical Services Group was that the figure given in the annual return for the Higher Education Students Early Statistics (HESES) survey should give a full-time equivalent figure as if the student was part-time for the whole period, based on the combined total of full-time and part-time study. The effect of such a change would be to increase the notional weighted full-time equivalent used in funding allocations, because of the premium to part-time students. The Sub-committee was told that HEFCE's funding was output based, but in quite a sophisticated way:

    "We do not require students to complete their course, or even pass a year of study, merely complete a year of study. This provides a financial incentive to retain students, in a way which does not create pressures which could undermine standards".[143]

We recommend that HEFCE should give explicit guidance to all higher education institutions on the treatment for funding purposes of students who move from full-time to part-time study during the year, so that all concerned should be clear on the financial consequences for the institution of the individual student's decision.


  74. There is an inevitable tension between the desire of autonomous higher education institutions to manage their own affairs and the demand from the Government that the use of public resources allocated to the institutions should reflect the priorities of public policy. Universities UK recognised that "more public money and more people involved mean that there is a need for rigorous accountability to check progress and deal with problems".[144] The Higher Education Funding Council for England is the instrument through which public resources are channelled to the higher education institutions.

We welcome the work undertaken by HEFCE to establish a common system of measuring aspects of performance of higher education institutions. We recommend that higher education institutions should consider these performance indicators regularly, and any other indicators which become available, as a means of examining their own performance and setting new targets.—Fourth Report from the Education and Employment Committee, Session 2000-01, Higher Education: Access, HC 205, paragraph 26.

75. Following the Dearing Report,[145] a number of indicators were developed to measure aspects of the performance of higher education institutions.[146] Using these performance indicators, HEFCE has produced an analysis based on benchmarking which enable institutions with similar profiles to compare themselves with each other.[147] As Professor Mantz Yorke put it:

    "the data that has been produced is useful for a kind of benchmarking facility, because that will enable institutions to ask themselves the question, 'Well, if that institution down the road, which is broadly similar to us, is doing so­and­so, and we're doing worse, why should that be; what can we do about it?'".[148]

Similarly, Sir Howard Newby thought that the benchmark approach was "actually quite useful" in "broad brush stroke terms".[149] HEFCE's Senior Data Analyst described the non-completion benchmark as "pretty rough and ready"[150] and as a warning indicator calling for some investigation rather than a conclusive judgement of performance.

We welcome the regular monitoring by HEFCE of institutions' performance in widening access, in particular the publication of performance indicators and benchmarks. We recommend that those institutions which do not reach the benchmarks established by HEFCE should come under particular scrutiny, and should be encouraged to learn from best practice elsewhere in the higher education sector. Where an institution significantly underperforms its benchmark it should be required to publish action plans on its strategies to widen access.—Fourth Report from the Education and Employment Committee, Session 2000-01, Higher Education: Access, HC 205, paragraph 34.

76. The way the HEFCE benchmarks are constructed reflects current realities rather than future aspirations. As the methodology becomes more refined and the figures more reliable, there will be scope for HEFCE to provide more detailed information to institutions and to monitor changes with greater accuracy. We recommend that HEFCE should refine and develop its work on benchmarks, so that universities and colleges can measure themselves against achievable targets in comparable institutions.

Participation premiums should be continued for each year the student is registered in order to encourage retention. Part of the premium for the second and subsequent years of a course should be front loaded and paid to institutions in the first year, in order to help resource the additional teaching and pastoral support which some students from non­traditional backgrounds are likely to need.—Fourth Report from the Education and Employment Committee, Session 2000-01, Higher Education: Access, HC 205, paragraph 64.

77. The recommendation about participation premiums in our previous Report on access to higher education was intended to address the need for teaching and pastoral support in order to overcome risks of non-completion. We do not wish to see financial incentives to universities and colleges lead to pressure to recruit students who are not equipped to take advantage of higher education. We recommend that incentives for higher education institutions to widen access should include an element which is payable on the successful conclusion to students' higher education. This would provide an incentive not only to admit students from non-traditional backgrounds, but also to ensure they are properly supported until they have achieved a recognised qualification.

Institutional stability

  78. The way universities and colleges are funded inevitably affects their strategic planning and operational decisions. For an institution to fall significantly below (or rise far above) the numbers of entrants set by HEFCE can, through 'clawback', have an early and significant effect on its funding. The impetus to admit students of whatever quality to fill up the required numbers is latent in the funding formula, but it is of course not in the long term interests of any institution to act in this way.[151] Nevertheless, it is necessary to ensure that the funding formula encourages academically defensible decisions and does not reward courses of action which are not in the best interests of the students admitted and have the potential to harm the reputation of the institution itself.

79. The Sub-committee heard a strong plea from institutional leaders during an informal visit to several institutions in Manchester that a key priority for Government should be to provide a long-term commitment to prioritising wider access and reduced non-continuation. Planning cycles for addressing these difficult issues are longer than three years, and higher education could respond with greater confidence to these priorities if long-term assurance could be given. We recommend that any new programmes or initiatives by the Secretary of State to encourage higher education institutions to widen participation should be funded for a minimum of five years.

Institutional collaboration

  80. The National Audit Office has recently published a Report[152] on how English further education colleges can improve student retention and performance. The NAO's analysis of the Further Education Funding Council's data on individual students showed that—

  • females and males have broadly similar retention rates;
  • students aged 19 to 24 have the lowest retention rates;
  • amongst students aged 19 or over, the lowest retention rates apply to those who have their fees remitted because they are unwaged, are studying basic education, or are speakers of other languages studying English;
  • overall, students recruited from deprived areas have the lowest retention rates;
  • retention rates for part-time students are similar to those for full-time students;
  • there are no marked differences in retention rates between ethnic groups;
  • retention rates are generally higher for courses leading to higher level qualifications but there are no marked differences between subjects studied.[153]

The NAO Report looked at good practice in motivating students at the beginning and throughout their courses, which the NAO identified as critical to improving retention rates.[154] The NAO Report also highlighted helping students choose the right course, providing effective induction and support and improving teaching quality and learning methods as key elements in improving student retention in the further education sector. The National Audit Office is considering whether to study retention in higher education. We would welcome a detailed study by the National Audit Office of retention in higher education.

81. Ms Dorma Urwin, the Principal of University College, Worcester, told the Sub-committee that:

    "the development of the links between further education colleges and higher education institutions has been one of the most significant contributors to the growth in access and to widening participation; and having those links well established, so that students can move through easily from one institution to the other, is one of the critical factors in ensuring success in the first year of a degree programme".[155]

Further education colleges act as feeders to higher education institutions, and are significant providers of higher education courses. They have a great deal of experience in working with students to induct them into academic skills after a period away from education. We recommend that the Regional Development Agencies and Learning and Skills Councils should seek to develop strategic partnerships between further education colleges and regional higher education institutions, in order to provide routes for mature students, and for students who have previously not completed a course of higher education, to be able to progress towards entry or re-entry to higher education.


  82. The University of Durham told the Sub-committee of different non-completion rates on their two campuses in Durham and Stockton. The larger part of the University, in Durham, had highly selective admission, while the new Stockton campus focused on widening access. Non-completion rates at Durham at the end of the first year were approximately 6 per cent, but at Stockton approximately 15 per cent. Non-completion rates for years two, three and four, however, were largely the same across both sites. The University therefore suggested that "first-year survival" was the critical issue in addressing non-completion.[156] The QAA argued that students who are not fully confident in key skill areas should be provided with assistance to develop these skills at the very start of their higher education. The QAA drew the attention of the Sub-committee to the DfEE funded 'Improving Your Learning' workbook produced by De Montfort University to support the development of key skills, including self-assessment and action planning by the student.[157]

83. Changes to the structure of the academic year may affect retention rates. Many institutions have adopted modular provision which involves assessment relatively early in a student's first year in higher education. For those students who have been out of the education system for some time, and have to re-acquire or develop academic skills, their first experience of assessment may come before they are fully inducted into higher education. We recommend that higher education institutions should consider whether students who have been outside the formal education system for some time need additional support to face the challenge of assessment early in their course. We recommend that institutions should give serious consideration to ring-fencing a small proportion of teaching and research funding to support students at risk of withdrawal.

84. The consequence of our recommendation to ensure that access premiums and other incentives contain an element paid from graduation (see paragraph 73) taken together with our recommendations in our Report on Higher Education: Access to quadruple the premium,[158] is that universities will find it cost-effective to seek to maximise their returns from these premiums by ensuring, through targeted support and teaching, that students at risk of withdrawal are supported.


  85. The evidence considered by the Sub-committee indicates that the most effective methods to reduce non-continuation include taking a personalised approach to supporting individual students. The most important requirement is that students should be well-informed before they arrive in higher education about what to expect. Children need to be encouraged to raise their aspirations as young as Year 8,[159] in the year before they choose their GCSE subjects, about the paths open to them through higher education into careers, and how those paths link in to their school experience. Sir Howard Newby referred to the need for a "judicious mix"of raising schoolchildren's aspirations and conveying relevant and meaningful information so that they know what to expect when they enter higher education.[160]

Initiatives should be targeted at school pupils as young as thirteen to ensure they can consider university well before GCSE options are chosen in Year 9.—Fourth Report from the Education and Employment Committee, Session 2000-01, Higher Education: Access, HC 205, paragraph 42.

86. The Sub-committee heard differing views on the value of a 'year out' between school and university. Professor Mantz Yorke thought that the year out was an option that might be beneficial for many students, but pointed out that students who went into employment and lost contact with the rigours of studying might need extra support when they returned to the education system to begin their higher education course.[161] Sir Howard Newby was not entirely sure that a gap year was of direct educational benefit to students when they enter higher education.[162] Professor Geoffrey Copland told the Sub-committee he was a great believer in gap years.[163] As far as widening participation is concerned, Sir Howard Newby suggested a focussed three month induction course to prepare students lacking academic self-confidence for the hurly-burly of the first year of academic life.[164] We recommend that HEFCE should fund pilot schemes to offer institutions and individual students respectively financial support to provide and attend three-month induction courses over the summer months to prepare students from non-traditional backgrounds for their first year in higher education.

87. We welcome the willingness of many higher education institutions to include parents in invitations to open days at the pre-application stage when potential students are deciding where to apply. Sir Howard Newby recognised that the extension of student fees for full-time domestic under-graduates had led to a shift of attitude:

    "parents are becoming much more involved in these issues that you describe, including the choice that their children make. What we are finding is that, if I can put it this way, the introduction of fees is doing away with the large remnants of in loco parentis as far as the relationship between universities and students is concerned. Students are becoming—to put it rather in an exaggerated way perhaps—less and less pupils and more and more customers".[165]

88. We recommend that higher education institutions should recognise that parents have a crucial part to play in providing all kinds of support for the individual student—and not just means-tested contributions to tuition fees and maintenance for those who can afford to pay—and that taking the family into account from the outset can provide valuable reinforcement for increasing continuation rates in the longer term.

89. We recommend that HEFCE and the Secretary of State should explore measures for encouraging parents to pay the means­tested contribution to tuition fees, since 20 per cent of students whose parents are expected to pay fail to receive the full contribution with detrimental financial consequences for the students concerned.[166]

90. The decision whether to continue studies can turn on the availability of types of personal support that are sometimes given too little attention. This may include, for example, the guaranteed provision of a childcare place before entry,[167] or the provision of an on-campus parking space for a student who relies on having a vehicle to combine childcare and studying. More generally, higher education institutions may wish to consider how their working practices and especially the expected hours of attendance at compulsory lectures, seminars or laboratory work might affect parents of school-age children. Baroness Blackstone agreed that "more can be done to try to really help and encourage the young, single mother to get herself the best possible education that she can".[168] We recommend that higher education institutions should be prepared to guarantee childcare places to potential applicants with children under school age.


We strongly support moves toward an academic calendar which allows applications to higher education to be based on students' qualification results (Post Qualification Applications) rather than projections of their performance.—Fourth Report from the Education and Employment Committee, Session 2000-01, Higher Education: Access, HC 205, paragraph 90.

  91. There is some evidence that students are more at risk of non-continuation if they are not in their first choice of institution.[169] It would help students make better informed choices of courses of study if they knew at the time of application how many UCAS points (based on A Level scores) they had. We recommend that higher education institutions should actively prepare to adopt a post-qualification applications system.


  92. We recognise that students' mode of study is becoming more flexible. There has been a significant increase in the number of students who study part-time. More students have family or personal commitments which require time during the 'academic week'. Students registered as full-time will increasingly spend time in paid employment. Higher education institutions have responded imaginatively to these pressures. A range of modes of study, including part-time, work-based, distance and technology-assisted learning now complement the 'traditional' diet of full-time higher education. Many institutions have adopted modular structures which may enable students to transfer between programmes if their initial choices prove be unsuitable.

93. Professor Geoffrey Copland stated that more than 80 per cent of full-time students at his university were in paid employment during term time. Some of those students were offered permanent jobs as a result of the work they had undertaken. Professor Copland argued that for these students there was a "very strong temptation to say, 'I will take that job now'".[170] He noted that students who accepted these offers may return to their university to complete their studies at a later date, perhaps some years later, or they may enrol with the Open University or another higher education institution.[171]

94. Some students may be tempted to remain in employment following an industrial placement.[172] We recommend that higher education institutions should be prepared to respond to situations where students wish to continue in full- or part-time employment with an employer with whom they have been undertaking a placement linked to their academic course by offering flexible provision allowing the student a choice of ways to complete what would otherwise be the final year of full-time study. A key component of the kind of response that is needed would be giving students formal credit for their achievement to date, allowing progress towards final qualification to be built up alongside employment.


  95. The role that credit accumulation and credit transfer schemes may play in reducing non-completion is as yet rather under-developed. We recommend that the Quality Assurance Agency should help institutions work towards mutual recognition of first year level modules, so that students who have left an institution in their first year are not discouraged from returning to higher education at the same or a different institution by having to start all over again.

96. The Chief Executive of the QAA, Mr John Randall, told us that the qualifications framework being developed by the Agency will include "descriptors of outcome that can be used at stopping off points below the levels of the honours degree".[173] Such descriptors could make it easier for levels of achievement below degree level to be recognised, and should also help non-continuing students to resume their studies at a later stage. We welcome inclusion in the QAA qualifications framework of outcome descriptors that enable achievement below the level of the honours degree to be recognised and which facilitate subsequent resumption of studies.


  97. In primary and secondary education, the quality of teaching that students experience is rightly regarded as of crucial importance to their progress. The last ten years have seen growing recognition that teaching quality is also a vital element in the higher education student experience, and can affect the proportions of students who complete their studies and achieve worthwhile qualifications. Current staff­student ratios and the heavy demands that compliance regimes and competitive bidding for funds place on both academics and administrators, make it harder to offer students the individualised academic attention that can help retention. It is not only the quality of lectures and laboratory work and the adequacy of libraries and learning resources that make a difference, but a sense that one's identity is known and circumstances understood by teachers in one's specialisms, that the course followed has clear milestones and expectations, that early and helpful feedback on work submitted will be provided and advice on points of difficulty made easily accessible.

98. The University of Durham highlighted the positive relationship between teaching quality, as assessed by the QAA, and retention of students with lower than average A level entry scores.[174] NATFHE told the Sub-committee that in many institutions there was a tradition of assigning the least experienced lecturers and postgraduate students to teach first year students.[175] We recommend that higher education institutions should carefully examine whether teaching arrangements for students in their first year of study, particularly the deployment of highly experienced teaching staff, fully reflect the importance of providing students with a firm foundation for their higher education.

99. Over the past decade there have been significant developments in the provision of systematic training for university and college teachers. Few universities are now without specialist groups for this purpose, and the availability and take­up of staff development opportunities are taken into account in assessments of teaching and research quality. Following a lead given by the National Committee of Inquiry into Higher Education (the Dearing Committee) an Institute for Teaching and Learning has been established by means of which individual members of staff can obtain formal accreditation.

100. The Sub-committee heard on its university visits and elsewhere considerable concerns being expressed by teaching staff and others about the QAA's Teaching Quality Assessment. As currently constituted, it was in a number of cases producing a paperchase mentality in university departments anxious not to jeopardise their QAA rating. This concern for over-documenting activity can produce excessive administrative burdens on staff which then reduces time available to offer support to students and develop other teaching skills. Scepticism was also expressed that the QAA's announced 'lighter touch' on some inspections would address these concerns. We recommend that the DfEE and the QAA should agree and publish clear guidelines for the Teaching Quality Assessment which will reduce the burden of paperwork and preparation on both staff and assessors. We recommend that the QAA should consider other forms of inspection—including possibly spot inspection—that might prove less stressful or time-consuming, and should spell out in detail how any lighter touch inspections would operate.

101. We welcome the development of greater concern with the quality of teaching in higher education. We recommend that those universities and colleges that do not already do so should introduce clear and systematically monitored requirements for staff participation in appropriate teaching development programmes, not least in order to ensure that the needs of a more diverse student population are recognised and addressed.


  102. The interaction between student financial support and the social security benefits system is complex and beyond the scope of our present Report. The NUS noted a policy discrepancy between the DfEE and the DSS in their treatment of student income: the DfEE treats income from student loans as 52 week income, but the DSS treats it as income over the academic year from September to June.[176] This, the NUS argued, leads to confusion and budgeting difficulties. For students who are eligible for benefits (students with dependant children and disabled students) these may result in a "substantial proportion" of such income, including housing benefit, being lost.[177] Skill: the National Bureau for Students with Disabilities, noted that once students commence a full-time course they are considered by benefits legislation to be in full-time higher education until either successful completion of their course or permanent withdrawal. For disabled students who have to take time out of their studies because of health reasons, benefits will only become available 28 weeks after the date of incapacity. Skill argued that in these circumstances some students faced a choice between permanently withdrawing from their courses or receiving no income.[178] The Sub-committee heard at first hand in Manchester powerful testimony from students and student advisers of disjunctions between student support and the benefit system.

103. We recommend that the DfEE should conduct a review with the Department of Social Security and the Treasury of the interaction between tax, social security and student support with a view to providing the least well-off students with as seamless a service as possible to support their continuing in higher education.


  104. Our inquiry has demonstrated a widespread conviction that a significant link exists between students' economic circumstances and their propensity to complete their studies in good standing. Whilst more work is needed to establish how the various factors that influence retention and non-completion interact, we believe there is a prima facie case for believing that any deterioration in the quality and levels of student financial support could have a detrimental effect on retention and successful completion, and that this is therefore an important aspect of the issues that we have been considering.

105. Financial support for students studying at English universities is available from two main sources: local education authorities and the university or college. Box 2 shows the principal sources of support administered by local education authorities and funding sources administered by individual universities and colleges. Additional sources of financial support are available for part­time students (including fee support, loans for course related costs, Disabled Students Allowances and help from Access Funds); NHS Bursaries available for students on some healthcare courses; some students may be eligible for certain social security benefits; and extra allowances may be available if students have dependants. Career Development Loans are available to students who are not eligible to apply for other financial support schemes.

This is a period of significant change in the arrangements for students' financial support. We recommend that the Department for Education and Employment, working with individual universities, should monitor closely and report on the operation of the new financial support arrangements.—Fourth Report from the Education and Employment Committee, Session 2000-01, Higher Education: Access, HC 205, paragraph 70.

106. Professor Diana Green drew the attention of the Sub-committee to research commissioned by Universities UK into the links between student debt and likelihood of successful completion of higher education programmes. The project would also analyse the benefits and adverse impacts of term­time working and its effects upon universities' teaching programmes.[179] We expect the results of the research to be carried out by Universities UK into the effect of student debt on student retention to make a useful contribution to informed policy-making for future student financial support arrangements.

107. The introduction of means-tested tuition fees and the replacement of maintenance grants with student loans was the most radical change in higher education finance and student financial support in 30 years. There is a clear need to evaluate carefully the consequences of this change. During our inquiry concern was expressed that the new arrangements for students' financial support may put the poorer students under more, perhaps undue, pressure, with a consequent increase in non-completion. We recommend that the Government should commission as a matter of urgency research on the effect of new arrangements for students' financial support on completion rates, particularly with regard to lower socio-economic groups.

Box 2: Sources of financial support

 — administered by local education authorities
For 2000-01 annual tuition fees are £1,050. Support is available, on a means-tested basis, for the cost of these fees. Grants are payable to students on the basis on parental/student income. The Government estimates that from 2001/02 around half of all students will receive grants to cover the entire cost of their tuition fees.

Loans to students are available to help cover the cost of living while completing an approved course of higher education. The level of loan that students are entitled to varies with location of study, type of course, stage of course and the length of the academic year. The student and his or her family may be required to contribute up to 25 per cent of the level of the loan depending on income levels. Repayment of the loan will be triggered once income exceeds £10,000 a year, with repayment amounting to 9 per cent of annual income above this amount, collected by the Inland Revenue on behalf of the Student Loans Company. Total repayment costs are the value of the original loan, index-linked to inflation.

Supplementary grants are available for some students who require additional support depending on their circumstances. Students eligible for these grants include those with disabilities, those with dependents including lone parents, students with additional travel costs in certain circumstances and those leaving care to enter higher education.

administered by individual universities and colleges
Access funds are normally in the form of a grant to the student from the university or college, and are available to help students who are in financial difficulty. These funds can help with living expenses and course costs including childcare, travel, accommodation, books and course equipment. Students must normally have begun their course before they can apply for these funds. The university or colleges decides which students will receive payments and how much each payment will be, depending on the student's circumstances, how many other applications have been received and the level of access funds available to be disbursed that year.

Hardship loans are available in addition to normal student loans. To be eligible, students must have already applied for their full student loan entitlement. Hardship loans are added to the total sum borrowed via the student loan, and are repaid in the same way.

From Fourth Report from the Education and Employment Committee, Session 2000-01, Higher Education: Access, HC 205, Annex 2.

108. It is argued that there is a gap between the reality and the perception of student finances. It is only to be expected that after a rapid series of substantial changes, there should be some turbulence before a settled understanding emerges. It would be valuable for research to be undertaken on the nature and effects of any such gap that may exist. Some argue that the key features that need to be more widely broadcast to encourage wider participation in higher education are these:

  • undergraduate tuition fees are payable by those whose parents are means-tested as being able to afford them[180] (approximately 50 per cent of students from 2001);

  • higher education is a good investment of time and money and worth borrowing for—within reasonable limits—because most graduates in general earn higher incomes in the long run;
  • student loans are subsidised; and are repayable only after graduation;

  • additional financial help is available for a few of the least well-off students.

We recommend that the Government should seek to tackle the problems of debt aversion and, where held, perception of student debt, insofar as they affect student retention by reinforcing its efforts to get across these messages.

We believe that the income threshold for repayment of student loans in England and Wales, and also in Scotland and Northern Ireland, places too great a burden on graduates' income, and that the income threshold should be raised. — Fourth Report from the Education and Employment Committee, Session 2000-01, Higher Education: Access, HC 205, paragraph 71.

109. We recommend that the Government should tackle the consequences of student poverty for retention by improving access to financial support for less well-off students, raising very substantially the income threshold at which graduates have to begin repayment and addressing concerns about debt escalation.


  110. 'Bearing down' on the rate of non-completion in our universities and colleges is an essential part of the widening participation agenda. If we are to move towards achieving the Prime Minister's target of half of the population experiencing higher education by the time they are 30, a fundamental change of attitude is needed to recognise and celebrate achievement rather than to castigate failure. We wish to see a future for higher education as part of a national commitment to lifelong learning, in which the door will always be open for returners to complete a course leading to the acquisition or renewal of knowledge and skill, and, if desired, an appropriate qualification, and in which each individual who studies at a university or college, for however short a time, enjoys a challenging and rewarding experience.

133  Universities UK, New Directions for Higher Education Funding, March 2001, paragraph 4.6. Back

134  The £1bn Science Research Investment Fund was announced in the 2000 Spending Review and the Science and Innovation White Paper: Excellence and Opportunity, Cm 4814. The fund consists of £675m Government funding for higher education research infrastructure, £225m from the Welcome Trust and £100m to modernise Research Council institutes and to contribute to larger projects. Back

135  See paragraph 11 above. Back

136  Appendix 17, paragraph 4; Q. 515. Back

137  Q. 355. Back

138  Q. 393. Back

139  Ev.p.109, paragraph 10. Back

140  Q. 232. See Q. 472. Back

141  Ev.p.135. Back

142  According to HEFCE, the Open University's returns to the Higher Education Statistics Agency showed that just one student had followed the full­time to part­time path in 1999-2000-Ev.p.122. Back

143  Ev.p.122. Back

144  Appendix 13, paragraph 2. Back

145  National Committee of Inquiry into Higher Education (The Dearing Report), 1997. Back

146  Ev.p.108, paragraph 2. HEFCE has published two Reports on performance indicators: for the period 1996-97 and 1997-98 in December 1999 (HEFCE 1999/66) and on the period 1997-98 and 1998-99 in October 2000 (HEFCE 00/40).  Back

147  For a discussion of HEFCE benchmarks on widening participation, see Fourth Report from the Education and Employment Committee, Session 2000-01, Higher Education: Access, HC 205, paragraphs 21 to 26. Back

148  Q. 5. Back

149  Q. 216. Back

150  Q. 397. Back

151  Q. 237. Back

152  National Audit Office, Improving student performance: How English further education colleges can improve student retention and achievement, 2000, HC 276. Back

153  HC 276, para 2.4. Back

154  HC 276, para 21.4. Back

155  Q. 64. Back

156  Appendix 18, paragraph 5. Back

157  Ev.p.36; Q. 122. Back

158  HC 205, paragraph 64. Back

159  QQ. 350, 457-8. Back

160  Q. 167. Back

161  Q. 31. Back

162  Q. 176. Back

163  Q. 228. Back

164  Q. 178. Back

165  Q. 209. Back

166  See paragraph 39 above. Back

167  QQ. 172, 470. Back

168  Q. 471. Back

169  QQ. 180, 245. Back

170  Q. 277. Back

171  Q. 277. Back

172  See paragraph 49 above. Back

173  Q. 145. Back

174  Appendix 18, paragraph 11. Back

175  Appendix 15, paragraph 6. Back

176  Ev.p.95. Back

177  Ev.p.95. See Interface between Social Security Benefits and Student Support, report from the National Union of Students, the National Association of Student Money Advisers and the Association of Managers of Student Services in Higher Education to the Interdepartmental Group. Back

178  Appendix 26, paragraph 3.1. Back

179  Q. 282. Back

180  Students over the age of 25 and other students classified as independent are assessed on their own income.  Back

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