Select Committee on Innovation, Universities and Skills Written Evidence

Memorandum 64

Submission from the TUC


  I am writing to raise some concerns over the decision by government to withdraw funding from HE students who are studying for a qualification which is equivalent to, or at a lower level than, their existing HE qualification. I understand that funding is to be withdrawn, subject to certain exemptions, from 2008-09. This will hit some HE institutions, notably the Open University, particularly hard. It is argued that this will save some £100 million which can be reallocated towards priority HE students such as those entering HE for the first time; that in many cases employers should support ELQ students; that this policy is consistent with the similar approach towards not funding repeat qualifications at FE level; and that when funding is limited hard decisions must be made. I understand those arguments. However I would urge that this policy be reconsidered.

  While it is right in principle that a similar approach should be adopted towards repeat funding in HE and FE, there are, for example, exceptions in the case of repeat Level 2 funding where a learner is unemployed or on a low-income, where they may be entitled to funding, or qualify for reduced fees, even if they already possess Level 2 qualifications.

  Again, the principle that employers should pay, where appropriate, is one the TUC would support but there are considerable difficulties in applying that principle here. For example it is unclear that many ELQ students would necessarily be able to seek support from their employer. Many may be studying in order to achieve an employment or career change, rather than to enhance their skills with their current employer. Only 17% of OU students currently receive any financial help from their employer.

  The general policy that funding for repeat qualifications may need to be limited when there are higher priorities, such as widening participation, is understandable but needs to be applied very sensitively and will necessarily vary according to the context. HE qualifications which are technical or highly vocational may well become outdated more quickly than other more general lower level qualifications. There may also be an impact on other priority groups if a reduction in PT HE students feeds through to a reduction in adult HE participation more generally. The saving of £100 million is a very small proportion of the total £7.1 billion HE funding but will hit part time HE students particularly hard. HEFCE modelling suggest that 20% of PT students will become unfunded as opposed to only 2% of FT students.

  While there are some exemptions and some transitional safety net measures have been put in place for the OU, these too may need reconsideration. The exemptions covering teachers, nurses, social workers, foundation degrees and provision co-funded with employers will affect only 5% of OU students. The OU estimate that their estimated 25% drop in student intake and 19% drop in funding will be the most radical cut suffered by any university since the early 80's. Replacing 29,000 ELQ students by, for example, recruiting access and foundation degree students will be a major challenge.

  HE fees and funding are of course to be reviewed in 2009/10 and there may well be merit in the suggestion that this funding change, or at least the PT element of this change, be deferred until then.

January 2008

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