Select Committee on Education and Employment Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum from NATFHE (HE 20)


  Many of the issues covered by the inquiry are of course controversial and subjective so some of the comments below are necessarily impressionistic, reflecting the experience and views of members, though where possible evidence and statistics are used. The suggested questions are sometimes grouped where this seemed helpful.


  "By whose definition?" is the question often asked and the definition colours the method of assessment. The older established Universities ("Old") were traditionally perceived to favour a definition which placed emphasis on theoretical aspects of learning, the newer ("New") on more practical, vocational aspects. Employers favour broader definitions which embrace team skills, initiative and creativity. All three strands are woven into current QAA reviews but in the nature of academic life, quite rightly, the argument continuously develops. Yet that process demands resources for peer group initiated reflection on the teaching and learning process—staff participate in external processes (eg QAA) but often have little time to reflect upon them, or to engage in similar reflection at other times. Staff would welcome more resources to enable them to engage in peer group observation of a range of classroom practices (in the broadest sense e.g. including field work) and peer group discussion of successful/unsuccessful teaching and learning strategies.


  There are many ways of categorising higher education institutions (HEI's) but arguably the biggest difference, still enshrined in different legal, pension and governance arrangements, remains that between Old and New HE Institutions. The binary divide (between Polytechnics and universities) has become blurred but still remains a major funding difference. For example:

    —  Teaching Income per student (i.e. all non-research income) is 51 per cent higher in the Old than the New HEI's.

    —  New HEI's teach 57 per cent of all HE students yet receive only 7 per cent of research grant.

  The table annexed shows the amount of non-research funding (in £000's) available per student for each HEI. Since HE institutions have two purposes, teaching and research, it is surely not unreasonable to describe non-research income as "teaching income". The table shows massive inequality, only some of which can be explained by subject cost differences.

  The amount of 'teaching income' available inevitably has an effect on quality.

  In theory, the HE funding councils fund students using "broad principles . . . that similar activities should be funded at similar rates . . . Students, expressed as FTE's are weighted according to different price groups, which reflect the costs of provision in different subjects . . ." (HEFCE Report 99/13). But there are several factors which should also be borne in mind:

    —  HEFCE special funding contributes to the extra cost of USS, the pension Scheme for Old HEI academic and related staff, which has an employer contribution some 7 per cent more than the equivalent for New HEI academic staff, this adds 2 per cent (about £35 million) to teaching funding for all Old HEI's

    —  Subject mix; medical and science subjects are particularly expensive hence the high placing of the medical schools and some science and engineering HEI's

    —  Small and specialist institutions (eg music) have special funding

    —  London HEI's attract special funding for eg London Weighting

    —  HEI's with Old and historic buildings (after 1914) have special funding

    —  The subject costs which institutions inherited are narrowed up or down to the standard though should equalise by 2001-02, Old HEI costs are generally higher.

  Plus non-funding council and non-research income eg endowments, conference income, donations from alumni, interest on capital or reserves—the HE funding councils are prohibited by law from taking these factors into account when allocating grants.

  Not all these factors work against the New HEI's; indeed HEFCE has some special funding projects, eg to encourage access, which work in their favour. But, for example, the cost of the USS support is much more than the cost of the £7 million Access and Participation special funding, most of which goes to the New HEI's. Incidentally, this is of course not a call to reduce USS support, simply to highlight the funding imbalance. It is also noticeable for example, that there is no sudden jump from the Old to the New, although it is equally noticeable that the vast majority of the Old are in the top half of the table in Annex 1 and the New in the bottom half.

  It is surely quite unacceptable that there should be such a vast disparity between HEI's whose students are all paying the same £1,025 fee. Teaching quality cannot remain unaffected. If there were a similar disparity between the funding of, say state secondary schools, there would rightly be a national outcry. The disparity between FE and sixth form college funding, about which there is substantial political pressure, is only 25 per cent—far less than the 50 per cent disparity between Old and New HEI's.


  Access students need proportionately more funding than traditional students. The 5 per cent premia for students from disadvantaged postcode areas, 5 per cent for mature students and 5 per cent for part-time students are welcome but only very partial recognition of the extra costs. All those premia need re-examination.

  Academic staff are sick of having to describe a group of 30 students as a "seminar". They know students are short-changed when teaching is inappropriately replaced by "self-directed learning activity". Students who come from backgrounds where reading substantial books is unusual need a great deal of extra help. They need intensive attention, in small groups, particularly in their first year. Many have dependants, many have to take paid work to make ends meet which adds immense extra pressure to their academic work. NUS studies of students' paid work have shown that it tends to be more frequent and the hours longer at the New HEI's—partly because they have a higher proportion of mature students with financial and family commitments to maintain. As the access net grows wider, students will need more help, not less.

  One common problem is that casual part-time staff are hired to cut costs. They are simply not on campus beyond their teaching hours to help students. If lectures grow to embrace 200 students or more, there is little chance of any follow up discussion or individual help. Many access students need help with learning skills, information retrieval, IT skills and confidence building before they are able to use Web-based learning.

  Although institutional management often talks about "over teaching" and seeks to reduce teaching time, the staff often believe that their students require more "human" support than they get. This does not mean staff are unwilling to re-examine teaching practice and—for instance—to use IT to shift from an over-reliance on information-providing lectures, and instead to use contact time to work in seminar groups, to facilitate and support distance learning. But such changes should be driven by the needs of students and maintenance of high standards, not driven by cost.

  Of course diversity should be encouraged and recognised. Of course excellence should not be jeopardised. But there is excellence in many of the New HEI's whose achievements are neither fully recognised or adequately funded. "Diversity" is welcome but cannot disguise the gross inequity of the fact that some students will have three times the available teaching funding of many other students. Government are right to champion the cause of the disadvantaged and focus on widening access to HE. But the figures above show that the great majority of such students are not being offered anything like a genuine equality of opportunity to participate in HE. Those students who need most help get least.


  As the previously élite system is transformed, definitions of expansion become less clear. The traditional participation rate among 18-21 year olds is less than wholly relevant. Nonetheless it is clear that, whatever the yardstick, the system will have to continue expanding rapidly to achieve the Prime Minister's 50 per cent goal early in the next century. Expansion does not of course necessarily mean in the traditional three or four year degree. It may well be appropriate for a wide range of academic ability to expand sub-degree provision, for example the two year Associate Degree pioneered at Middlesex University, though demand for this route is only likely to be strong if progress to a degree is open, where academically justified.

  The Prime Minister said in his November Romanes lecture at Oxford that he wished to see the majority of the extra 100,000 HE places planned by 2002 to be at sub-degree level and provided through FE. But delivering HE in FE is most successful where groups are fairly small and teaching relatively intensive, ie at HE level but delivered in an FE classroom format. That is not a cheap option. Cut-price expansion of HE through FE would simply be a route to high drop out rates, low quality and unacceptable loads placed on already grossly overburdened staff. Of course HE can be delivered very well in FE but only when fully funded at HE unit costs (as HEFCE direct funding now aims to ensure) and where academic links between relevant HE and FE institutions are well developed. NATFHE strongly supports greater integration of FE and HE, but only at HE funded levels.


  Expansion has of course brought in more students from non-traditional backgrounds. The New HEI's have done better at recruiting these than the Old hence their rising share. For example Old HEI's take 19 per cent of students from the lower social classes (incidentally against a HEFCE benchmark expected figure of 21 per cent) while the New take 33 per cent (benchmark 30 per cent). Again, for low participation neighbourhoods, Old HEI's have 8.8 per cent (benchmark 10.5 per cent) against 14.3 per cent (benchmark 14.7 per cent) for the New. HEFCE have introduced a £30 million fund to encourage access to HE for non-traditional students and those from low participation postcode areas attract a 5 per cent premium.

  But those monetary incentives are a very small proportion of the total £3 billion teaching grant.

  To achieve the OST forecast of 50 per cent by 2005 would require an annual average increase in student intake for the UK as a whole of at least 7 per cent or 20,000 FTE students (depending on level, mode and duration of course etc) each year for the next five years. Much greater incentives to recognise the true costs of teaching disadvantaged students (described above) will be needed. The overall unit of funding per student must be maintained at the very least at current levels (ie the planned 1 per cent real terms cut in 2001-02 rescinded ).


  One obvious form of waste is high drop-out rates. Of course failure to achieve a desired qualification in the time planned is not a complete waste of whatever learning was achieved. Some students do go back years later to finish. Others will gain by even a few months participation even if they gain no qualification. For still others it will be valuable to learn that HE is not for them. But all of those caveats are qualified apologies for what students themselves, and the taxpayer, see as failure. Even accepting that the UK drop out rate of 18 per cent is relatively low compared to most other countries, it means that £900 million of the £5 billion HE funding council grant is, in effect, wasted. Although 260,000 students gained a degree in 1997-98 (latest HESA figures available) a further 47,000 (18 per cent) did not do so. In today's terms they would each have wasted between £1,000 and over £3,000 in fees, not to mention the debts they are likely to have accumulated.

  So drop-out rates do matter enormously, not just to the Treasury and economy, but to individual students. And analysis of the figures shows that it is the financially poorest institutions which have the highest drop-out rate:




  NOTE: Drop out rate is full-time first degree entrants 1996-97 leaving after one year ie by 1997-98, source HEFCE Performance Indicators November 1999. Teaching income per student is total income except income for research grants and contracts divided by all FTE students; source Table 6, Resources of HEI's 97-98 and Table 1 HE statistics for the UK 97-98; HESA.

  Of course, the teaching income comparisons are partly skewed by the subject - mix, science students attract more income than arts. But the LSE has little expensive science while South Bank, for example, does have substantial electrical and engineering departments. Furthermore, London is generally acknowledged to add around 15 per cent in costs eg London Weighting payments.

  The drop-out rates for these eight HEI's were very close to the expected (HEFCE benchmark) drop-out rates. The table shows the strong link between funding and failure rates, surely a major measure of teaching quality.

  Of course, a great number of factors affect drop-out rates, including family history, schooling, neighbourhood and income. But one major factor which helps retain students is the amount of face to face teaching they receive. Small group teaching is highly effective at meeting the needs of disadvantaged students. The more students need to be on campus, mixing with their peer group, the stronger their affinity to the institution is likely to be. But more face to face teaching, in smaller groups, requires more staff per student. The above eight institutions had very different ratio's reflecting their different funding:


South Bank
University of North London
University of East London
Bolton Institute

  NOTE: "Teaching and Research" staff only, research staff are excluded. Source HESA 1997-98. (Full-time staff only, no reliable figures for PT staff)

  To make the same point another way, Oxford Brookes and Southampton Institute each have an expected benchmark drop-out rate of 10 per cent. In other words they have broadly the same mix of social class, demographic, regional, income and other variables among their student intake. Yet Brookes does 3 per cent better (actual drop out rate only 7 per cent) while Southampton does 3 per cent worse (actual rate 13 per cent). Oxford Brookes has 20.3 students per academic while Southampton Institute has 30.7.

  Increasing full-time academic employment in the New universities by 10 per cent or 2,600 staff at an average estimated cost of £25,000 would cost £65 million. That is £20 million less than the potential savings from reduced drop-out rates.


  The Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) report for 1997-98 "paints a picture of an HE system that is, overall, in good health". But it goes on to say: ". . . in the last year seven programmes were found to have substantial room for improvement". It adds "worryingly, six of these related to HE provision offered in FE colleges. Whilst only 29 such programmes were reviewed, for one fifth of them to have achieved such low ratings must be of particular concern at a time when the government is looking to the FE sector to provide some growth in HE provision" (all quotes from p 2 of the report). In other words quality was found to be weakest where resources were lowest. It is crucially important to add that very many HEI's with relatively low resources do, against the odds, achieve excellent QAA ratings—Luton is one such example. But the relationship between quality and resources cannot be ignored.

  The QAA report goes on to note that "funding mechanisms still place an emphasis on research that, if not corrected, can distort priorities". For New HEI's which are trying to build up a research profile it can be particularly difficult to maintain, at the same time, the resources and commitment necessary for excellence in teaching. Research quality is rewarded far more generously than teaching quality. Teaching quality is of course not determined by funding. But resources must matter, for example to fund better teaching equipment and IT, to recruit high quality staff or to fund intensive teaching. One frequent threat to quality is over-reliance on part-time teaching staff, often hourly paid. NATFHE commissioned independent research from the Institute for Education at London University which analysed QAA and TQA reports, looking for any discussion of part-time staff issues, in four representative subject areas. The research found that employment of part-time staff was often reported as a potential or actual threat to quality when inadequate resources were put into fully integrating and supporting such staff within their Departments. Of course many part-time staff did add to teaching quality—but only when adequately resourced. The Research concluded that casualisation was a major concern and that QAA inspection should take much more account of it.

  The QAA Report also notes that "Nowhere is the maintenance of standards and the credibility of awards more important than in overseas markets. Universities are able to succeed in these markets because of the value that is attached to the quality and standards of UK HE. If that high standing is damaged, then the UK's position in global markets is undermined. A lapse from high standards by one institution in one overseas partnership can do disproportionate damage to the image of UK HE generally. Damage can be done not only by actual lapses but also through any perception that standards are not being maintained".

  Again, the New HEI's, where resources are known to be under acute pressure, have provided most of the examples of perceived or alleged low standards. Instances are relatively rare, and overwhelmingly outweighed by the examples of teaching excellence among New HEI's. But as the QAA notes it is perception which can cause damage. For example BBC Radio Four ran a File on Four Programme in November which was critical of Derby University's links with Israel. In the event the Israeli HE authority gave approval (albeit substantially qualified) to continuing the Derby links. The QAA became involved in Thames Valley University because of concern over press reports in the Sunday Times. A preliminary QAA Review found no evidence to support the press allegations but damage had been done. It is no accident that HEI's with the lowest resources are those most likely to suffer intense press scrutiny.

  It is in the interests of government to help the least well funded. The Prime Minister has said he wants HE to increase its share of the international market for HE from the current 17 per cent to 25 per cent. That must mean substantially reducing the risk of any adverse publicity, well founded or not. The temptation when under acute funding pressure to cut corners must also be tackled. Sometimes it is the least well funded New HEI's which try to seek alternative sources of income from overseas—without necessarily having the means to guarantee quality.


  The ILT has got off to a flying start. The New HEI's have traditionally been strongly committed to teaching quality and innovative forms of high quality teaching for non traditional groups of students. That is why NATFHE has been actively involved in the ILT from its inception, and was supportive of previous initiatives such as UCoSDA and SEDA. The ILT already has hundreds if not thousands of members, an ambitious programme of conferences and seminars, has launched a highly popular web site and will launch a journal in July 2000. Government support has been important and welcome. HEFCE have also been strongly supportive and the decision to locate the Generic Learning and Teaching Centre and the Technology Innovation Centre at the ILT's base in York is important. If the ILT continues to be successful it will undoubtedly have a major impact on teaching quality, not least in how that is conceived.

  Further success is dependent on funding. Seedcorn funding has been just enough to launch the ILT; achieving a mass membership among academic and learning support staff will need further help. Many HEI's are likely to wish to encourage their staff to join, some may help with the fee. The two year window within which experienced staff may join through the accelerated scheme will provide an incentive. But joining is not, nor should it be, simply a paper exercise. It requires a period of reflection and discussion which takes time. Continuing membership requires evidence of continuing professional development (CPD). If HEI management expect staff to find the time for those activities on top of existing workloads the response will be anger and cynicism. That would be a sure way to discredit the ILT. The existing demands of teaching, scholarship, research or administration must recognise the new demands of the ILT.

  Many other professions (eg law or personnel) estimate that, for example, CPD should occupy the equivalent of about a week per year. It would surely be surprising if there were no costs attached to the first professional institution for teaching quality in HE. As an illustration, a 2 per cent (ie one week per year) addition to staffing would add £70 million to the annual payroll. The Institute itself, while eventually becoming self supporting, is receiving continued HEFCE support. But the greater attention to quality which membership of the Institute will bring, and the fact that HEI accreditation will require demonstrably adequate resources, will themselves also throw up or highlight needs within HEI's for greater teaching resources, reinforcing QAA demands. Those demands can be anticipated and are likely to be most acute in the least well funded HEI's.


  Such staff are nearly always part-time and this is an area where the ILT definitely has potential to be a major force to improve teaching quality. It is vital that part-time lecturers and—in a different way—postgraduate student teachers—are drawn into ILT membership and given professional development and training opportunities. The student-as-customer will be increasingly unlikely to put up with sections of their teaching being done by the "unqualified" or unaccredited. Undergraduate students may have a role in sharing or leading team learning but that is very different from using them as formal teachers. There are various approaches to this area including accreditation of teaching teams, but all require more systematic provision of mentoring, support and training to all those teaching in HE, even on a casual or minimal hours basis. That is where the ILT could play an invaluable role in ensuring that such developments were assessed against accepted benchmarks of good practice. Of course this has significant resource implications for HE, particularly the New HEI's, where the great majority of part-time teachers are found and often used because they are cheaper. Only a small minority of part-time lecturers in the sector are really used as quasi-consultants because they have external experience.


  The allocation of HE funding council grant to HEI's, and in particular the dominance of the RAE, have a profound effect on the nature of teaching and learning, the priority attached to it and the distribution of funding for it.

  Research and scholarship must go hand in hand with teaching at HE level. Academics should engage in scholarship and research to inform and support the quality of their teaching. Equipment used for research and funded by research grant is often also invaluable for teaching. Yet 75 per cent of HEFCE research grant goes to only 26 HEI's. That leaves the rest very little, particularly the New HEI's, who get only 7 per cent yet teach 57 per cent of HE students.

  In particular, teaching quality in many of the more vocational disciplines requires an applied research base. This is often seen as a weakness in UK R&D generally. Many commentators have stressed the need for much greater emphasis on better exploitation of the UK's excellence in basic research as well as more applied research and stronger, more responsive links with industry—particularly links with small to medium sized enterprises at regional level. This does not deny the importance of basic research (and many would query whether the basic/applied linear model is still a useful concept) but it does argue for much greater weight to be given to externally commissioned research contracts. The HE funding councils are already moving slowly in this direction with the introduction of GR (generic research) but the GR element remains only £20 million of the £855 million HEFCE research grant total. "Third leg" funding through the new HE Reach Out fund also recognises the need to shift the direction of research funding, such moves would also greatly assist teaching.

  It is generally recognised, (see QAA Report quoted above), that the RAE still distorts the system. The fact remains that research quality is funded far more generously than teaching quality.


  The Dearing Report recognised that the teaching infrastructure across the board (and particularly in those HEI's which had not been historically well-funded) urgently required upgrading. All forms of teaching equipment, but in particular IT, need investment even more now than when Dearing was published. It is clear that the future will bring a large increase in the use of Web-based learning materials, dispersed centres of learning and home based learning. As the Open University's experience shows, delivering HE through these media is not necessarily a cheap option. Installing, maintaining and upgrading IT equipment is expensive (and incidentally does not replace the necessity for face to face teaching, particularly for the disadvantaged). The University for Industry will undoubtedly act as a catalyst to increase demand for such IT based learning. But teaching funding is simply not adequate to cover these substantial infrastructure costs. Those HEI's which receive relatively large amounts of Funding Council research funding are able to use the resultant research infrastructure to help with teaching but for those HEI's without substantial research funding that option is closed. A major increase in IT and other teaching equipment spending would ensure that all HEI's could provide computer access to all students and staff, provide adequate staff and student training and support, and expand Web-based and other distance learning materials. Laboratories, workshops, design studies, computing hardware and software could all be updated. All students, not just those in HEI's with access to substantial research funds, should have access to a decent level of industry standard equipment, particularly those students on directly vocational courses.


  Research for the Cubie Report has shown that there is a deterrent effect, albeit not simple, as a consequence of tuition fee payment by students. As Cubie argued, the problem is not simply one of poor presentation. If HE were genuinely free at the point of use access for disadvantaged groups could be improved. An equally difficult problem partly consequent on withdrawal of grant is the very steep rise in student paid employment. NATFHE hosted a discussion conference on this late in 1998, jointly with the NUS. Speakers and research showed an average of 15 hours per week but with many students doing far more and particularly those with dependants, mature students and the already disadvantaged. Some HEI's accept responsibility for this and give guidance but a national lead is needed. Students need to know how much is sensible (some paid work can of course complement academic studies though less often than is claimed) and should not be driven by financial necessity to take on too much. Many NATFHE members have commented that this has become a major factor in student academic success and has massively reduced the quality of the student experience.


  This submission has only given a brief outline in answer to some of the points raised in the suggested questions. In our view the key issues are:

    —  Recognition of the continuing gross inequality in "teaching funding" between HE institutions

    —  Recognition of the links between teaching funding and teaching quality; for example in drop out rates, provision of a research and scholarship environment for staff

    —  IT and other equipment available for teaching

    —  Support for the ILT as a major new initiative to enhance teaching quality across the sector and give particular help to some staff eg part-time lecturers

    —  Greater access to research funding for all staff, more recognition of the value of applied research and support (eg in funding) for stronger links between research and teaching

    —  More support for delivery of teaching and learning to non-traditional HE students, often in non-traditional ways (eg via Web based learning) but recognition also that intensive small group teaching will often be essential.

    —  Recognition of the true cost (probably more than the current 5 per cent premia) of delivering high quality HE teaching and learning to eg part-time, disadvantaged post code and mature students.

  NATFHE is also very keen to give oral evidence to the Committee based on this submission to assist with the inquiry.


January 2001

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