Select Committee on Public Accounts Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120-124)



Mr Steinberg

  120. Is the drop-out rate getting any higher because of the student financial situation we have at the present time? Your own DfEE figures, I understand, show that something like 40 per cent of mature students are now dropping out of higher education.
  (Sir Michael Bichard) I will look at that[6]. It is not a figure I would recognise. The drop-out rate in this country is lower than just about any of our competitors in higher education. It is remarkably low compared to most of our European competitors. Again, that is not to say we should be complacent about it. Many of the things we have been talking about today are really important in the HE sector to ensure that people get on the right course, they are supported, there is a proper induction, and we identify quickly when they are experiencing problems. You could have this debate today in relation to the HE sector. It is wrong to suggest that we (relatively speaking) have a major problem with drop-outs; it is not true.

Mr Griffiths

  121. I was interested in Edward Leigh's question and particularly your answer about schools and bad staff. I have had experience in my own constituency where five years ago a school that was becoming a sink school got a new head teacher, and she told me that one member of staff had left, and it is now one of the most desired schools in Edinburgh. The question I would like to put to you is I am concerned that that head teacher is going to be lost to schools. I wonder whether consideration is given to rewarding head teachers and rotating them every five years. Of course that is easier in an urban situation than a rural one, but is that something you have given thought to?
  (Sir Michael Bichard) I think that is really important. There are examples of that happening. If you are saying could we or could local authorities, I think it is more local authorities that could do something here because it is in small geographical areas. One of the reasons I am moving is because I think individuals need to keep fresh and organisations need different leaders after a while. That applies exactly the same to a school as it does to a Civil Service or Whitehall department. So I think we should be facilitating and encouraging that.

  122. On higher education I get the feeling that higher education staff and institutions do not feel that they have enjoyed the same benefits over recent years that perhaps primary schools have, and to a lesser extent secondary schools but still substantial benefits. Is that impression well-founded?
  (Sir Michael Bichard) I am about to find out since I shall be working in the sector. I have a sense that that is how they feel. I am not sure whether it is entirely justified other than of course the Government has placed a particular priority on literacy and numeracy—primary schools' basic skills. I do not think that has been at the expense of HE. The investment in HE has also increased. The targets for participation in HE have increased as well. The investment in research and equipment in HE has increased substantially over the last four or five years, but certainly I think the perception is alive in HE and that cannot be a good thing and we do need to change that and make the HE sector feel valued as well.

  123. Thank you and good luck.
  (Sir Michael Bichard) Thank you.

Mr Steinberg

  124. My respect for you is not quite as high as I thought it was. I read here that you have supported Manchester United for more than 30 years; that has got to be bad judgment!
  (Sir Michael Bichard) I was very worried at the weekend that this was going to clash with last night's game but as it happened I missed it anyway!

  Chairman: It just remains for me to say thank you for coming and thank you for all the work you have done in a very, very important sector.

6   Note: See Evidence, Appendix 2, page 21 (PAC 00-01/126). Back

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