Select Committee on Education and Skills Eighth Report

1  Introduction

1. When we issued our call for evidence in this inquiry in November last year, our intention was to undertake a wide-ranging study of the higher education sector. It is ten year since the Dearing report[1] and, while we were not attempting a Dearing follow-up, we wanted to make an assessment of how the sector might look in another ten years time and what challenges it faces along the way. As we said at the time:

"Higher education institutions (HEIs) are semi-autonomous institutions which largely define their own purpose or purposes. Nevertheless, it is appropriate for a government spending over £7.5 billion [each year] on HE to clearly identify what it wants from universities in return for this level of public investment.

In moving further towards a high-skill economy, an increasingly international HE sector, an era of mass-participation in HE, and a possible future market in fees after 2009, this inquiry will investigate questions of first principles in HE: what is the role of universities, what should the principles of funding be, and what should the structure of the HE sector look like or be shaped by?[2]

2. We have already published one report, on the Bologna Process for the development of a European Higher Education Area.[3] We had anticipated that we would produce at least two further reports on various aspects of higher education later in the year. The decision to split the DfES in two and create the Department for Children, Schools and Families and the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills, however, means that this Committee is unlikely to continue in its present form. We have decided therefore that it is important to report now on one part of the inquiry which we have covered in some depth: the international aspects of higher education.

3. We have taken a substantial amount of oral evidence for the inquiry as a whole, and we are grateful to all of those with whom we have held meetings. They are listed at the end of this report. Those who gave evidence specifically on the international aspects of higher education were Professor John Brennan, Professor of Higher Education Research, Centre for Higher Education Research and Information, The Open University, Professor Phil Brown, Centre on Skills, Knowledge and Organisational Performance, Martin Davidson, Director General, British Council, Professor Bernadette Robinson, UNESCO Centre for Comparative Education Research, University of Nottingham, Professor Alison Richard, Vice Chancellor, University of Cambridge, Professor Georg Winckler, Rector of the University of Vienna and President of the European University Association (EUA), Professor Lan Xue, Vice President of the Development Research Academy for the 21st Century, Tsinghua University, China, and Tim Gore, Director of Education for the British Council, India, and head of the UK India Education and Research Initiative. We also received 75 memoranda, and we thank all those who submitted evidence.

4. The Committee undertook two overseas visits as part of the inquiry: to Australia (Sydney and Canberra), as one of the main alternative destinations to the UK for students from overseas; and to China (Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing), as one of the main exporters of students to other HE systems and as a country which is rapidly developing its own HE sector.

5. We have been assisted in this inquiry by Professor Janet Beer, Pro-Vice-Chancellor of Manchester Metropolitan University; Professor Alan Smithers of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at the University of Buckingham; and Professor Sir William Taylor. We thank them for all their work for the Committee.

1   Higher Education in the learning society, Report of the National Committee of Inquiry into Higher Education, July 1997, Chairman: Sir Ron Dearing. Back

2   Education and Skills Committee press release, 3 November 2006. Back

3   Education and Skills Committee, Fourth Report of Session 2006-07, The Bologna Process, HC 205. Back

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