Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80
MONDAY 10 DECEMBER 2001
80. You seem to be privately agreeing that the
perception of debt is important, maybe not the debt level itself
but the perception of debt is terribly important with regards
to trying to improve participation levels, but you have also mentioned
the fact that you think there should be much greater involvement
by universities, perhaps private industry as well, into schools
to try to help them through this process, to try to encourage
more students to participate and go on to higher education. We
have agreed on the debt side of things but can I just tease out
a little bit more about how would you get involved in schools.
What recommendations would you make to the Government about this?
(Sir Howard Newby) First of all I would encourage
morethe technical termcompacting between schools,
colleges and universities so, for examplethis always sounds
a rather arrogant way of putting it but I cannot think of a better
waywe can manage the supply chain better so that students
at 13 or 14 when their cultural attitudes to learning are concretized,
can be set on a pathway where it is seen as "normal"
and "acceptable" in terms of their own peer group to
progress through eventually to higher education. To do that we
need to involve not only the universities more in schools and
colleges but also schools and colleges more in universities, providing
more part-time appointments for school teachers in universities
and encouraging schemes for people from universities to spend
part of the time in schools as well. Essentially trying to create
a more holistic partnership between schools, FE colleges and universities
within a local region so they are all working together to run
what I called earlier this campaign.
81. This is very important to you, is it not,
and it is very important to put some concrete proposals on the
table together because, without beating about the bush, it is
going to be very difficult for you to achieve your targets if
you do not instigate these sorts of policies.
(Sir Howard Newby) Absolutely. We have got proposals
that my board has discussed about creating what we call big partnerships
between schools, colleges and universities which would achieve
this. I repeat, if these students are not coming through at 18
adequately prepared and with the right kinds of qualifications
to go into higher education then we are not going to meet those
82. Have you put concrete proposals on the table
to the Government about this? Is this your main thrust with regards
to trying to improve participation levels?
(Sir Howard Newby) Yes to both questions.
83. Have you made recommendations where you
could perhaps aim to influence the actual curriculum of the school
(Sir Howard Newby) There was a time when universities
did do that through the universities' traditional control of A
level syllabuses, Joint Matriculation Boards.
84. Are you going to go back to that?
(Sir Howard Newby) A lot of water has gone under the
bridge since then. I think there are many in universities who
would wish to see us exert rather more control over syllabuses
because in some subjects the sheer variety of A level syllabuses,
especially when you have modular A levels, is such that it is
quite difficult to make common assumptions about what they know
when they come into university. At the moment what I would like
to see is for us, again, to talk to the Qualifications and Curriculum
Authority to see what we can do with them to improve matters.
I think in recent years the number of A level Boards has been
reduced, the qualifications system has been made rather more coherent
than it was, say, ten years ago. I would like to see what we can
achieve by working with them before we went any further. But it
is an issue.
Mr Baron: It is going to become more so, if
we are going to meet these targets.
Chairman: I will now bring in Paul Holmes who
has been on another Committee.
85. You are saying that from your perspective
certainly the perception of debt has put students off. I was head
of a sixth form for the last 12 years and I would certainly say
that the students I dealt with over that period of time, who were
the first generation A-level and probably first generation university,
were put off by the perception of fees and loans. In achieving
the targets for the increase in the number of students, how far
would the financial support for FE students, who get almost nothing
compared to what HE students get, be important in achieving the
target of 50 per cent of school leavers going on to higher and
(Sir Howard Newby) I said earlier I do think there
are incompatibilities between student funding for FE students
and student funding for HE students which, if we are not very
careful, could act as an obstacle, particularly insofar as more
higher education might be delivered through the FE institutions.
That remains to be seen. We know, do we not, that at whatever
stage we are talking about in the education process, the drop-out
tends to occur when there is some sort of dislocation or disparity
when a student needs to move from one institution to another,
or moves from one part of the sector to another, and that is when
you tend to have a higher drop-out rate, and the more we can make
14 to 19 seamless in terms of not just educational achievement
but also in terms of student funding arrangements, frankly, the
(Mr Bekhradnia) Chairman, there is a pilot in progress
at the momentI imagine you may know about it but I think
your Committee might benefit from following it upon educational
maintenance allowances for 16-plus students. What I understand
is that the experience has been very mixed. In some cases they
have been very successful in persuading 16 year olds to stay on,
whether in school or FE, and in other cases they stay on but because
the money goes to the family and not to them the enthusiasm wanes
and there is a fall away. I certainly think it is an area that
warrants further examination.
86. What you seem to be suggesting, both of
you, is not just a curriculum change, even if that were necessary,
but a cultural change. If we are going to have a campaign on something
that big, perhaps we should be asking on Wednesday the Minister
for Higher Education about whether she should be providing leadership
for the campaign to change the culture in the 14 to 18 age group.
Something you were quite taken with, if I remember, Professor
Newby, was actually giving incentives to universities to go down
that sort of path and look for students from poorer postal code
areas. I believe the premium that universities receive for a student
from those postal code areas is 5 per cent and I know the Committee
then recommended a 20 per cent premium. Are you still positive
about that? Some of the experience, interestingly enoughand
Bahram was talking about educational maintenance allowances not
being a magic wand in this situationis that premiums to
FE institutions are not as encouraging as I had hoped.
(Sir Howard Newby) You are quite right, that is something
we wanted to look at and we did initiate a couple of external
studies carried out by KPMG to establish what the additional costs
of taking in such students and retaining them were, so that we
could then adjust the post code premium accordingly. Those reports
have just come in and we are now examining them with a view to
looking at whether and how far we should adjust the post code
premium. It will be upwards, if we were to do so, not downwards,
I hasten to say.
87. Mr Bekhradnia and Professor Newby, thank
you very much for coming here. We have over-run our time but just
to say to you we hope to be seeing more of you.
(Sir Howard Newby) Thank you very much.