Select Committee on Public Accounts Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 480-490)



  480. How soon do we hope to get the result of this review which is being carried out?
  (Mr Normington) As soon as we can but I cannot be sure, we have not finished the review. I was asked this several times on Monday and I cannot elaborate beyond saying it will be as soon as we can do it.

  481. Why should we be optimistic about it? This Report was only produced earlier this year, right at the beginning of this year?
  (Mr Jones) Yes.

  482. A few weeks ago. So this is about as up-to-date statistics as you can get. What statistical base are you going to have to make a sounder analysis that is different? Throughout much of the questioning on Monday you were not able to answer questions because the statistical information was not available.
  (Mr Normington) But it is a question of the solution, is it not, not the analysis? That is what the review is about, looking at the solution.

  483. Coming back to you, Professor, you gave the interesting figure the other day about tuition fees. You said that yes, in so far as tuition fees have gone to the universities, in effect their grant has been diminished by a similar amount. Is that correct?
  (Professor Sir Howard Newby) What Mr Steinberg asked me actually was a question specifically in relation to teaching and whether or not the funding for teaching had been supplemented by the income from tuition fees. I said that no, it had not, and that is true.

  484. That brings me right back to my very first question. That is marvellous. Thank you. So here we have a situation where it is recognised that the schools are not able to teach at this stage, most of them are not able to teach in the way or to the level required traditionally for university entrance, in terms of aptitude for the course; the universities have not remedied that by putting money in themselves, and we now find that the money that has been accepted for tuition has not been going to tuition at all. That is a ripe piece of achievement, is it not? It seems counterproductive economy.
  (Mr Normington) A whole range of things have been funded over that period.

  485. But it comes back to my initial point about the priority. If the deficiency is in the schools because they are not teaching to the level that the university want to receive at, if the university now are not getting the money they need and the students are paying for tuition, but they are not getting the money to provide extra and better tuition, it seems to me that it is a self-defeating exercise.
  (Mr Normington) The money has gone into a range of things. It has enabled the unit of support for students to go up for the first time, to be stabilised. It will go up next year for the first time. Of course, a lot of the money has gone into research, into widening participation. It is going into the university staff's pay.

  486. But the students pay for tuition. If it were a consumer product, it would be a Trades Descriptions Act case. People are being charged for tuition and the money is not going to them. That should have been extra money going to tuition, but it is not.
  (Mr Normington) It is going into a whole range of things. It has not gone directly to increase the money for tuition.

  Mr Williams: Thank you.


  487. Thank you, Mr Williams. We are now at the end of our session, but I have two or three very short questions to wrap things up today. Sir Howard, in answer to Mr Jenkins you made very briefly an interesting reference to league tables which you seem to be suggesting were distorting the system in some way. Do you want to add anything to that?
  (Professor Sir Howard Newby) I simply observed that all of the newspaper league tables have an element in them which is heavily weighted towards the A-level points qualification entry of the students they admit. That actually is a very considerable element in determining where a university sits in the league table. Therefore, when an admissions tutor is faced with attempting to choose between very large numbers of students applying for a finite number of places, I am saying there is a powerful incentive there, unless we do something otherwise, for them always to go for the student with the highest A-level points, irrespective of the other qualities which astudent may have. That is a barrier, an obstacle, I should say, to some admissions tutors taking their responsibilities seriously over widening participation.

  488. Thank you. There is a question from one of my colleagues which was a bit on the edge of what we are talking about, but I think it is relevant. This afternoon there was an important meeting attended by MPs from all parties, Mr Normington. They met with head teachers from the state boarding schools. I actually have one of these state boarding schools in my constituency, and one of my colleagues has already raised this because he has one or more. There are only 60,000 boarders, and only 4,000 are in the state boarding sector, so it is quite a small sector, but it is important, particularly in terms of disadvantaged groups, maybe people with social need problems, armed services, and it may impact on entry into higher education, although I accept it is at the margin. As we have had this meeting today, will you undertake to acquaint yourself with these worries of this small group?
  (Mr Normington) Yes, certainly.

  489. Turning now to a completely different subject, why are you removing the compulsion to study a modern language after age 14?
  (Mr Normington) We have not said that is what we are going to do yet. The Government is about to produce a 14 to 19 Green Paper which will discuss the curriculum. The Government has not made that announcement.

  490. You have been before us for the best part of 51/2 hours this week. I hope you have found it instructive. We have certainly found it very interesting indeed, and you really have made an honest attempt to answer our questions in a very direct way. We are very grateful to both of you. Thank you very much.
  (Professor Sir Howard Newby) Thank you, Chairman. We are very grateful to you for your courtesy.

  Chairman: Thank you. The session is closed.

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