Select Committee on Innovation, Universities and Skills Written Evidence

Memorandum 70

Submission from the 1994 Group

  The 1994 Group (membership, aims and objectives detailed in Annex A attached) offers the following evidence to the Innovation, Universities and Skills Select Committee into Funding for Equivalent or Lower Qualifications.

  1.  The 1994 Group welcomes the invitation from the Innovation, Universities and Skills Select Committee to submit evidence to its inquiry into Funding for Equivalent or Lower Qualifications (ELQ). On behalf of our member institutions within England, we would like to highlight to the Committee our concerns with the proposal to phase out funding for ELQ students both in relation to the significant potential impact of the policy on our members and a matter of principle regarding consultation with the sector.

  2.  In October 2007, the 1994 Group strongly welcomed the Chancellor's announcement in the pre-budget report that, in recognition of the tremendous achievements of the Higher Education sector in the delivery of excellent research, innovation, teaching and knowledge transfer activities, the comprehensive spending review had delivered significant new investment into the sector. These achievements have been delivered, particularly in the last 10 years, in close partnership with government and the funding council. In an era of substantial policy change, shared expectations and mutual understanding between partners has been achieved through detailed and considered consultation and debate. Difficult decisions, most notably the introduction of the new student fee and support arrangements in 2006, have been based on a shared understanding of need and impact.

  3.  In the light of this, we were surprised and disappointed to see confirmation in the CSR announcement that, as part of the funding package, a £100 million saving would be achieved by the immediate phasing out of funding for ELQ students. The 1994 Group understands that, in the process of a spending review, difficult decisions need to be taken regarding the overall balance of funding to Higher Education. We also understand that within a constrained environment funding needs to be directed carefully toward those students determined to be of maximum value to the delivery of the government's social and economic targets. The Higher Education sector is not, and must not be, entirely risk averse. However, if our institutions are to continue to deliver and improve upon our record of outstanding achievement, it is essential that they operate, like the most successful businesses, within a relatively stable planning environment.

  4.  For a stable planning environment to be maintained, substantial policy change must be debated fully with the sector in advance of implementation to ensure that the consequences are understood, alternatives explored and, at the extreme, impacts mitigated. This was simply not case with the ELQ announcement. The immediate implementation of the withdrawal of ELQ funding will have an impact on all Higher Education institutions. For some, in order for them to remain financially viable, they will need to undergo potentially destabilising unplanned, immediate and significant shifts in their institutional strategies. Various concerns have been expressed by the sector in opposition to the ELQ policy, but the most serious is the worrying precedent that this method of announcement and implementation establishes.

  5.  In summary, the 1994 Group has the following detailed concerns regarding the Government's decision to withdraw funding as a matter of principle from ELQ students:

    —  we question the decision taken to implement the policy through phasing out a proportion of mainstream HEFCE teaching funding from all Higher Education institutions (HEIs) based upon the number of ELQ students currently registered, (with the exception of some subject areas where it is determined that funding for individual ELQ students remains in the national interest.) As institutions were previously unaware of the need to discriminate between ELQ and non-ELQ students in their admissions requirements, the permanent withdrawal of mainstream funding is, in effect, a punishment for decisions taken in good faith in previous years;

    —  the immediate implementation of the policy will affect all of our English members, and will require often substantial revisions of their short-term financial and strategic plans to ensure that the most exposed of these exceptionally successful institutions are not left financially vulnerable. ELQ students have tended to register at HEIs as part-time (according to UUK, 71% of student FTEs modelled as affected by the ELQ policy will be part-time) and/or postgraduate taught students (29% of student FTEs modelled as affected). The withdrawal of ELQ funding therefore has a disproportionate impact on institutions with significant proportions of these students, the most notable amongst our members being Birkbeck College, University of London. More must be done to protect these institutions from the unintended consequences of this policy;

    —  the decision to implement the ELQ policy immediately and retrospectively has circumvented the normal institutional planning process. In the usual planning environment, institutional Senates and Councils would evaluate a change in government policy of this nature in advance of implementation. The strategic and financial decisions agreed would then be discussed with HEFCE and any difficulties addressed. In the absence of this usual cycle, there is a danger that institutional reactions to the Government's policy decision might create potentially unacceptably high risks which could have been avoided with time for proper consideration; and, finally;

    —  there is a concern that the proposal is being presented as zero cost. In addition to the considerable costs to institutions associated with absorbing and addressing the implementation of the policy, as detailed above, the additional requirements to discriminate between ELQ and non-ELQ students in admissions processes and in student data reporting will constitute a considerable permanent increase in the administrative and regulatory burden. In the absence of funds to support these new requirements, institutions will divert overstretched resources from other activities.

  6.  For the information of the Committee, we have raised the concerns detailed in this submission in recent private meetings with both the Secretary of State, Rt Hon. John Denham, and the Minister for Higher Education, Bill Rammell. Whilst standing firm on the matter of principle, we welcomed their agreement that the potentially perverse negative effects of the ELQ recommendations on institutions must be minimised. If a decision is taken to continue the implementation of the policy as planned, we propose therefore that universities that have lost funding should be given priority status for the award of the equivalent number of additional student numbers (ASNs) in the next HEFCE bidding round. Further, in the development of criteria for the award of ASNs, HEFCE should take care to ensure that institutions affected by the withdrawal of ELQ funding are not expected to distort their established strategic missions in order to secure these additional places. The partnership so carefully established between the sector and the government is not in danger of collapse, but, in future, we ask that when substantive policy changes are envisaged the considerable capacity of the Higher Education sector to engage in positive debate and to develop constructive solutions be recognised.

January 2008

Annex A

1994 GROUP

  Established in 1994, the Group brings together 19 internationally renowned, research-intensive universities. The Group provides a central vehicle to help members promote their common interests in higher education, respond efficiently to key policy issues, and share best methods and practice. Each member undertakes diverse and high-quality research, while ensuring excellent levels of teaching and student experience.

  Working as a group, we respect and support our members' particular traits and traditions. We are constantly looking for ways to apply our shared and individual strengths to meet the needs of students and staff, employers and industry, research councils, government agencies and all other interested parties.

  The Group's aims are:

    —  To secure widespread recognition and a position of strength to influence decision and policy-making groups.

    —  To achieve awareness and profile that underpins the ambitions of members in global markets.

    —  To promote the need for diverse, distributed centres of research and teaching excellence.

    —  To share good practice, enhancing the experience of staff and students.

    —  To provide services that help members respond effectively to changing market conditions.

  The Group believes that:

    —  Members' identities and traditions can be respected while providing a basis for innovative and challenging thinking.

    —  Research-intensive universities should play a full role at local, regional, national and international level.

    —  High-quality research and teaching are mutually supportive and serve to reinforce each other.

    —  Students and staff from diverse backgrounds should be encouraged to realize their potential in a well-maintained environment, providing a stimulating choice of academic, cultural and social opportunities.

  The members of the 1994 Group are: University of Bath, Birkbeck University of London, Durham University, University of East Anglia, University of Essex, University of Exeter, Goldsmiths University of London, Royal Holloway University of London, Lancaster University, University of Leicester, Loughborough University, Queen Mary University of London, University of Reading, University of St Andrews, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of Surrey, University of Sussex, University of Warwick and University of York.

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