Select Committee on Education and Skills Eighth Report

4  The future sustainability of the higher education sector: further issues

35. As we said at the beginning of this report, we had been intending in this inquiry to examine a wide range of issues in this inquiry in addition to the international aspects of higher education. We have touched on some of those issues in this brief report, but they would all benefit from a more detailed discussion.

36. On the structure of the sector, for example, Professor Richard, as we mentioned earlier, spoke about the variety of universities and the discomfort that the sector seemed to display about it, in contrast to the US, which has a much greater degree of comfort with the idea of diversity within the university system:

"What I see happening in the UK is you have an array of universities doing rather different things and many of them doing [them] very well; then you spin it through 90 degrees, you rank order everybody and then you are suddenly saying: Cambridge is up here and Anglia Ruskin, which is in the city of Cambridge, somehow ranks much lower than Cambridge. Well, actually, Anglia Ruskin does things that Cambridge University cannot do and does not do and vice versa, and we have got to get more comfortable with the idea of ourselves as an eco-system."[45]

37. This echoes a comment made by the previous Chief Executive of HEFCE that, in relation to universities, the English "do have a genius for turning diversity into hierarchy".[46] This issue of the structure of the HE sector—how different institutions differentiate themselves and what role, if any, the Government has in shaping the structure—was one of the main subjects that we sought evidence on at the beginning of the inquiry, along with the funding of universities and, perhaps most fundamentally of all, what the role of universities should be over the next ten years. On this last point there are vital questions to be addressed: what do students want from universities; what do employers want from graduates; and what should the Government, and society more broadly, want from the HE sector?

38. We recommend that our successors on the committee that scrutinises the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills should continue our inquiry and report on the issues of the structure of the HE sector; university funding (including levels of investment in research in comparison with competitor countries); and the role of universities over the next decade.

45   Q 750 Back

46   Education and Skills Committee, Fifth Report of Session 2002-03, The Future of Higher Education, HC 425-II, Ev 119 Back

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