Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60
MONDAY 29 JANUARY 2007
Q60 Mr Pelling: So Sir Howard then
was not able to achieve that?
Professor Eastwood: When you are
looking at universities and institutions which have a planning
horizon of tomorrow, the next year, the next five years or the
next 40 years, what we are talking about here is something that
is medium range. I cannot speak for Howard but I would be surprised
if he thought it was something that would be accomplished in two,
three or four years.
Q61 Mr Pelling: Does the funding
model discourage diversity?
Professor Eastwood: I do not think
it does particularly discourage diversity, no. I think what it
does is put the onus on institutions' management and governors
to chart the course for that university with vigour and confidence,
and if they succeed our funding model will reward them irrespective
of the mission of the university.
Q62 Mr Pelling: Do you share that
vision that Sir Howard had?
Professor Eastwood: I do not speak
in the tongues of rims and hubs and spokes, so my metaphors might
be different, but yes, I think that that vision (and you rightly
quoted Dearing), which is not a vision that was in any sense particular
to Howard, is one that universities increasingly understand. The
complication has been, and it goes back to something Mr Marsden
was mentioning earlier, a sense that perhaps research was disproportionately
important in determining universities' reputations. My own view
is that post-2006 we are increasingly moving into an environment
where teaching quality and the student experience will be as important
in establishing university reputation. If there was a distortion
there I think it is in the process of righting itself.
Q63 Mr Pelling: So HEFCE is now meant
to be shaping the sector? Is that the role?
Professor Eastwood: We work with
institutions and with the sector to find an appropriate shape
and size for the sector. We do not plan the sector and we have
always said, and I think if you were talking to colleagues from
Universities UK they would share this view, that the sector works
better with this kind of dynamism between autonomous institutions
and enlightened public funders.
Q64 Mr Pelling: So who is it that
should have the vision then?
Professor Eastwood: I think that
has to be a shared endeavour. I think that where institutions
have unrealistic aspirations we would in one way or another work
quietly with them to see if we could not remodel those aspirations.
More usually what we find is that some strategic funding from
us can facilitate institutions focusing their endeavours in areas
of quality and excellence.
Q65 Mr Pelling: So what is the emerging
Professor Eastwood: Of the sector
as a whole?
Q66 Mr Pelling: Yes.
Professor Eastwood: I think it
is a vision of a sector which has to be and remain internationally
competitive, a sector which needs to be responsive to developing
priorities, be they local, national or international, and increasingly
institutions which are comfortable with their mission, so in the
case of some institutions that is clearly a local and regional
mission, and in the case of others it is clearly as a global institution.
There will always be institutions which are moving within this
kind of firmament. We would expect to see that; the dynamism of
the sector would be dependent on that. The one thing we would
not want to see is a sector which was set in aspic where no institution
could have ambition, no institution could have aspiration and
no institution could transform its role.
Q67 Mr Pelling: So, using the corporate
"you", if I can call it that, your job is just to referee
the different aspirations of the different institutions?
Professor Eastwood: No. I think
our job is also to work with institutions and to provide not just
core funding but also strategic funding as appropriate, to be
a facilitator, and also I think we have a roleI think I
have a rolein interpreting what you might regard as the
broad parameters within which English higher education is operating.
Some of those are fairly hard-nosed realities and there is no
point in being anything other than direct about that.
Q68 Chairman: What do you think about
pre-1992 when Ken Clarke was Education Secretary and polytechnics
disappeared? If your role and HEFCE's role is about giving shape,
when we took the Committee fairly recently to Dublin and looked
at their polytechnic sector, which is still there, what they could
show us and what they were very proud of was the fact that they
are still training technicians to a very high level. Somebody
might put to you, and I am going to put it to you, that employers
here say they cannot get technicians for love nor money because
with the change to all polytechnics becoming universities no-one
sees that as their role. Is this perhaps behind the Government's
sudden decision to allow foundation degrees to flourish and FE
colleges to award degrees? Would you agree, Professor Eastwood,
that there is a gap there and why was it that employers could
say over a period of time that that kind of technician level,
high quality people who would have a range of qualifications,
is not provided for in this country in the way it is still in
the Republic of Ireland?
Professor Eastwood: I think we
might have found them saying that before 1992 as well. I think
our response to that though would be that if you look at what
has happened since 1992 there are a number of professions which
were non-degree professions which have become degree professions
and most of those professions, a lot of them in the public sector,
would say that they were better for doing that. We have seen the
development, and very successful development it should be said,
of new qualifications such as the foundation degree, which have
some of those characteristics within them62,000 foundation
programmes now and that number is rising. Within Lifelong Learning
Networks again we are trying to create pathways which are appropriate
for young people in particular to follow which will enable them
to develop their skills in the most appropriate ways, and certainly,
both as a funding council and within institutions in the sector,
we are working around the development of the new diplomas to ensure
that that is a high quality pathway which may lead directly into
work or into appropriate HE programmes for the kinds of young
people who come through. I think there are challenges here but
there is a range of initiatives which either are in place or are
coming on stream which will enable us to address that challenge.
Q69 Mr Carswell: I understand that
HEFCE undertook a review of its policy on funding and supporting
higher education in further education colleges. Is HEFCE's policy
on funding and supporting higher education in further education
colleges restricting growth?
Professor Eastwood: Could I just
say that we are in the middle of a consultation on higher education
and further education. It is about 8%, as you know, of higher
education which is delivered through further education colleges.
I think for us we are asking some open and quite searching questions
and what we want to do is ensure that higher education and further
education are strategic to the institution which is delivering
Q70 Mr Carswell: Sorry; I do not
understand what that means.
Professor Eastwood: We want to
ensure that the further education institutions which are delivering
higher education are committed to it on a stable basis and they
are working in appropriate partnership with a higher education
institution or institutions. That is why in the consultation we
are inviting both further education colleges that provide higher
education and the validating higher education institutions to
consider whether or not they should come forward with plans which
would give us that sort of stability and a framework into which
we could then invest.
Q71 Mr Carswell: You say it is out
to consultation but do you want to see growth in the provision
of higher education in further education colleges?
Professor Eastwood: If we are
to continue to make progress in terms of the expansion of higher
education opportunities it will be important. I think there are
kinds of higher education which are very appropriately delivered
in further education colleges, and there are also parts of the
country where the kind of distributed provision that we need to
have in place does mean that we need precisely these kinds of
partnerships between higher and further education, so yes, I think
we would see higher education delivered through further education
colleges continuing to expand, just as we hope that higher education
in higher education institutions will continue to expand.
Q72 Mr Carswell: I gather that in
April 2006 there were some conclusions put to your policy board,
is that right?
Professor Eastwood: To the HEFCE
Q73 Mr Carswell: What were the conclusions
of the review that were reported?
Professor Eastwood: That is really
what is informing the current consultation. There are issues around
the capital funding of higher education and further education
colleges. There are issues about ensuring that progression is
appropriate. We think that that is largely being achieved through
Lifelong Learning Networks but we need to establish that. We are
also looking particularly at areas of very small-scale provision
of higher education and further education colleges. Some of that
is very appropriate either because of issues of geography or because
of issues of specialisation, but again we want to ensure that
that is stable in the medium term.
Q74 Mr Pelling: In terms of this
blurring of the edges is there a gold standard in the HE sector
which is under threat by these changes?
Professor Eastwood: All the evidence
that we have had hitherto is that through a period of very considerable
change and development quality has been maintained, evaluated
in terms of what the Quality Assurance Agency has been saying
about quality, and evaluated in terms of the National Student
Survey, which we were talking about earlier, looking at it in
terms of retention rates and graduation rates, so I think English
higher education has a very strong story to tell around quality
and fitness for purpose.
Chairman: I want to apologise to you.
Professor Eastwood, because people are moving in and out of the
Committee. It is not meant as a discourtesy to you. The Whips
here from both parties put people on Standing Committees where
they have to go. I think they are always trying to undermine the
power of Parliament rather than the Executive, but never mind;
both Members are now back. Can we move on to something that is
of great interest to the Committee, as all these items are, but
we have been lobbied pretty hard on this, and that is part-time
Q75 Helen Jones: Professor, you will
remember that during the passage of the Higher Education Bill
the Government gave assurances that institutions, basically two,
Birkbeck and the OU, that taught all part-time students would
not be disadvantaged in any way. Why have we still not managed
to arrive at a settlement which is acceptable to those institutions
and which protects their position, because you spoke earlier about
the need to encourage lifelong learning and these are precisely
the kinds of institution that are very good at delivering lifelong
learning, are they not?
Professor Eastwood: I think we
have made some progress. That is not to say that we have done
everything that needs to be done but we have made some progress
in terms of the premium of part-time. We have made progress in
terms of the £40 million that we have committed to widening
participation through part-time and the £55 million we have
committed to enhancing retention of part-time students. We have
taken some measures, and I believe those measures have been welcomed
by the institutions you refer to, though, of course, there are
many other institutions that have very substantial numbers of
part-time students. We are in detailed discussions with those
two institutions about their own missions and funding and I am
due to visit both of them in the very near future, so I would
not like to anticipate those outcomes beyond saying that both
institutions also have other important roles which we are working
with them to refine. If you take the Open University, it has a
very important role in the provision of strategic and vulnerable
subjects and will be a significant beneficiary from a number of
the measures that we are taking in that area.
Q76 Helen Jones: Can we have a look
at that, because I think there is a 10% premium, am I right, for
Professor Eastwood: That is correct.
Q77 Helen Jones: If we look at what
happens to the fees, most institutions now are charging full-time
students the full £3,000, but Universities UK says the optimum
fee for part-time is £600 and I think Birkbeck charges just
over £1,125, because that seems to be all that the market
will bear in part-time. Is there a case then either for a higher
premium for these institutions or for changing the support available
to part-time students so that they can raise their fees? Have
you had discussions on that?
Professor Eastwood: We are monitoring
the trend data very carefully on what is happening to part-time
students under the new fee regime. You mentioned the issue of
what the market will bear. We are in the process of discovering
what that might be, so if you put those two things together we
will arrive at a point where we do know what the market will bear
and we know the point at which demand for part-time programmes
will turn down.
Q78 Helen Jones: But it is a question
of market for whom, is it not? The Government's answer is that
employers fund part-time fees but that is only for 40% of the
students, is it not?
Professor Eastwood: Yes.
Q79 Helen Jones: Are we not risking,
in simply saying it is what the market will bear, excluding many
of those that we would most like to get into higher education
simply because the grants are not available to them, the support
generally is not available to them, in the way it is available
to full-time students?
Professor Eastwood: First, as
I say, we are keeping that situation closely under review. Secondly,
there was an announcement in 2005 of a move towards some enhancement
of the support available to part-time students from poorer backgrounds.
The third thing to say is that for the Department and for us the
support available to part-time students is something which remains
a matter which is under review and under consideration.