Select Committee on Innovation, Universities and Skills Written Evidence

Memorandum 75

Submission from the University of Teesside


  1.1  The Government's proposals on the funding for Equivalent or Lower Qualifications (ELQs) will have a significant impact on part time and sub-degree study opportunities, which support the Government's policies on lifelong learning and on re-skilling and upskilling for employment.

  1.2  The University of Teesside accepts that it may be reasonable to find savings of £100 million from the higher education budget to invest in new initiatives. However, we do not believe that these proposals are the best way to achieve this, as they will have significant unintended consequences particularly in inhibiting the delivery of other policies which the Government wishes to promote. They will also limit personal and professional development opportunities amongst adults and create a significant bureaucratic burden for individuals and universities.

  1.3  The principal issues of concern to the University are:

    —  The impact on part time students, who do not benefit from deferred tuition fees or maintenance grants.

    —  The impact on opportunities for lifelong learning and developing skills in employment.

    —  The limited range of exemptions proposed.

    —  Implications for equal opportunities, especially for female and mature students.

    —  The bureaucracy required to implement the policy, and the potential for evasion and unfairness.

    —  Technical defects in HEFCE's modelling of the funding changes which are necessary to implement the policy, and their likely consequences, particularly for flexible study patterns through credit accumulation and transfer.

  1.4  We believe that if the policy is to limit public funding to one experience of higher education at any one level, then this should be focused upon full time study. This is where public subsidies are already concentrated, through grants, loans and funded places. There should also be a time limit, perhaps five years after graduation, beyond which there should be an entitlement to public support for part time education at the same level, in order to facilitate reskilling. However, any review of the balance of public and private funding should wait until the review in 2009 by the Fees Commission.

  1.5  We therefore urge the Committee to include recommendations which will support our proposals in its report.


  2.1  The University of Teesside, based in Middlesbrough with University centres across the Tees Valley, achieved University status in 1992, but has a history stretching back to 1930, as Constantine College of Technology and then Teesside Polytechnic. In 2006-07, the University recruited over 9,700 full time students and over 12,600 part time students.

  2.2  The University has a long standing reputation in providing higher education opportunities for all those with the potential to benefit, particularly in a region with considerable educational disadvantage. It also has a strong tradition of high quality HE courses and post graduate provision relevant to professional and industry needs. In particular, teaching areas ranked as top quality include Computing, Nursing and Midwifery, Professions Allied to Medicine, Art and Design, Sport and Exercise, Electrical and Electronic Engineering, History, Social Work and Chemical Technology.

  2.3  Teesside has been named as the top modern University in a new national student survey commissioned by the Times Higher Education Supplement (18th overall). It is also ranked within the top ten modern universities for graduate prospects, according to The Times Good University Guide 2008 and joint tenth in the Good University Guide produced by Mayfield University Consultants.

  2.4  According to the 2007 National Student Survey, Teesside is in the top 25% of English universities for student satisfaction and is the second highest modern university.

  2.5  It has a strong focus on providing accessible, relevant and flexible HE for people in work with a strong emphasis on raising skills and educational levels within the workforce. This is exemplified by many successful partnerships with employers and representative bodies such as the North East Chamber of Commerce, the North East Process Industries Cluster, Cleveland Police, West Mercia Constabulary and the Metropolitan Police, and many other companies and public bodies. Consequently, the University has a high proportion of part-time students.


3.1  Impact on Part Time and Sub-Degree Students

  3.1.1  HEFCE's analysis has indicated that the ELQ policy will affect around 20% of current fundable part time places, compared with 1.9% of the total for full time study. The total funding to be withdrawn is equivalent to £50 million from full time study and £95 million from part time study (at 2005-06 prices and levels of activity); the total of £145 million exceeds the required net saving of £100 million because of the need to fund the targeted allocations for strategically important and vulnerable subjects (SIVS) and part time study. Only one-third of the funding withdrawn is from full-time study the area with the greatest public subsidy, in the form of grants, loans and funded places.

  3.1.2  Our own information, based on 2006-07 student population, shows that there were 142 fundable full time ELQ students (2.1% out of a total of just over 6,800) and approximately 2,000 fundable part time ELQ students (21% out of nearly 10,000 students) who would not be exempt, of which 1,650 were on sub-degree programmes across all subjects.[136] Therefore the student groups which have not benefited from deferred tuition fees or maintenance grants will be among the worst affected.

  3.1.3  Examples of groups of students who might be particularly affected include:

    —  Nurses, holding pre-registration qualifications, who choose programmes to enhance specific skill sets relevant to their profession, such as BSc Promoting Practice Effectiveness.

    —  Students undertaking a variety of Education qualifications, such as Masters degrees and Certificates in Post-Compulsory Education.

    —  Students with a law degree who wish to enhance their skills through the Senior Status LLB.

    —  Graduates undertaking conversion courses to work in industries seeking specialist skills (the Process Industry is encouraging such programmes to address the shortage of engineering graduates).

  3.1.4  It is clear that institutions which have enthusiastically embraced the Government's agendas of lifelong learning and increasing higher level skills for employment will be among those worst hit by these proposals, and that the provision of such opportunities will be undermined. Provision of this type generally attracts a mix of first time entrants and those who have already benefited from higher education. There are few self-contained programmes which attract only first time entrants or only returners. The danger is that, if fees have to be increased, whether for all students or differentially for ELQs, demand will be adversely affected and some courses will have to close.

  3.1.5  Employer co-funding is likely to have limited applicability, at least in the North East. In our experience, employers are reluctant to contribute to the level of cost of higher education provision which the Government and HEFCE expect (up to 50%). Moreover, many of the region's larger employers are public sector, so co-funding arrangements merely transfer the burden from one public funding pocket to another.

  3.1.6  Many returners to HE do not benefit from employer contributions to the cost of their HE. We keep the PT fee low to provide more learning, and often vocationally related, opportunities for individuals in the region. The removal of funding grant will require substantial increases in fees for such individuals to cover the costs of provision, and for many this will be unaffordable.

3.2  Range of Exemptions

  3.2.1  The exemptions currently proposed could be considered to be somewhat arbitrary, and could lead to unintended consequences.

  3.2.2  The proposed exemptions for students studying courses which are treated as special cases by the Government—medicine, teacher training, nursing and social work—does not cover other parts of the public sector. For example, police forces, other areas of education and health carers are increasingly seeking training from higher education institutions, with programmes leading to qualifications at various levels.

  3.2.3  The planned exemption for students studying foundation degrees is welcome, but is likely to lead to wholesale reworking of other programmes—such as HNCs or HNDs, which continue to have a strong following—as foundation degrees, in order that all the students can continue to attract funding. The University has over 700 students on part time HNC/Ds in Engineering and Computing, across 12 programmes, some delivered in several partner FE colleges or by distance learning. Without converting to foundation degrees, the range of programmes or venues available to students and their employers might have to be curtailed. Industry would be hard pressed to understand such a switch in qualifications in order circumvent funding policy rules.

  3.2.4  The proposal to exempt co-funded students is illogical, and appears to be a matter of expediency. The planned allocations to support strategically important and vulnerable subjects (SIVS) and part time study are welcome, but we are concerned that the part time allocation of £20 million is insufficient to compensate for the withdrawal of funding, which is shown by HEFCE's own analysis to total £95 million, while the SIVS allocation will be fixed in cash terms, and so will not encourage growth in these subjects.

3.3  Equal Opportunities

  3.3.1  The dataset provided to the University by HEFCE for modelling the impact of the policy suggests that there will be adverse impacts on female and mature students.

  3.3.2  For example, the University's fundable student population in 2005-06 was split almost equally between male and female students by FTE (though in headcount terms, female students were in the majority). However, among students assessed as ELQ students on the basis of known qualifications, the female share of the total FTE is 58.6%, and the effect of exemptions only reduces this to 56.7% of the FTEs who would not be exempt. This is consistent with the University's own information about the proportions of part time and sub-degree students who are likely to be affected, as some of our most popular lifelong learning and continuing professional development programmes attract a majority of female students.

  3.3.3  Analysis of age on entry shows that the percentage by FTE of mature students (aged 25 or over on entry) assessed as ELQ students is double the rate in the total fundable population (which is 38%), and that the exemptions have little effect.

  3.3.4  The differential on race is less dramatic, but probably not negligible. The percentage of ethnic minority students by FTE among the University's fundable population in 2005/06 was 7.2%, but among those ELQ students with known qualifications and not exempt, it was 7.8%.

  3.3.5  These gender and age differentials appear to be an inherent consequence of the policy as applied to part time study.

3.4  Bureaucracy and Associated Problems

  3.4.1  The extra bureaucracy created by this policy will negate many of the benefits of reduced regulation achieved in recent years. Although we are as yet unable to quantify the extra staff effort required, or the risks associated with diverting effort from other tasks, we expect these to be substantial. We also expect that some resources, such as a qualifications database, will need to be provided by representative bodies on behalf of all institutions.

  3.4.2  This is because of the need to check the qualifications of students, beyond what is needed for admissions purposes, and to ensure that they are correctly interpreted and accurately recorded. Effort will also be needed to ensure that the exemptions required by the Government and HEFCE are correctly applied. In particular, we believe that:

    —  non-disclosure of qualifications will become a significant issue;

    —  institutions will need good practice guidance as to how far they are expected to probe an applicant's entry qualifications; and

    —  institutions will need access to a central database of current and past qualifications and their equivalences, including European as well as UK qualifications, to enable the policy to be implemented equitably.

  3.4.3  There appears to be potential for confusion and unfairness in relation to students who have achieved partial completion of an earlier HE programme. It appears that students who have chosen to accept an intermediate award (eg a Cert HE or Dip HE for the completed part of a first degree) could be penalised relative to those who have simply dropped out. This would be perverse.

  3.4.4  Further confusion and unfairness could be created if the ELQ policy is applied only to England, and not to the other parts of the United Kingdom, as seems likely at present.

3.5  Defects in HEFCE's Modelling of Funding Changes

  3.5.1  In deciding what counts as an equivalent qualification, no distinction has been made between intermediate qualifications which can either be taken as an end in themselves or successively on the way to a final qualification—eg Cert HE and Dip HE as stages of an undergraduate degree; postgraduate certificates and diplomas as stages of a masters degree.

  3.5.2  This means that the proposals as they stand will inhibit much of the flexibility which institutions like ours have built into their programmes to facilitate progression through successive stages of study, to allow students to take temporary study breaks to fit their personal circumstances and to encourage mobility between institutions. The concept of Credit Accumulation and Transfer to aid such flexibility could be set back.

  3.5.3  It is unsatisfactory that HEFCE have based their modelling on 2005-06 student data, and have no plans to revisit it using more recent data. Apart from not being up-to-date, this data as a whole is unlikely to be fit for the purpose for which it is being used. The HESA coding framework was not designed with this purpose in mind, so that some of the categories, such as "Open University credits", "Other credits from UK HEIs" and "Professional qualifications", do not distinguish between different levels of study. Also, although institutions aim to make their data as accurate as possible, it is logical for them to prioritise those items which affect their funding, and, so far, the entry qualifications of students have not been used for funding purposes. The reliability of entry qualification data could be improved significantly by 2009 (at a cost in extra resources, or diversion of effort) if there is a funding incentive.


  4.1  We urge the Committee to consider including some or all of the following recommendations in its report:

    —  That the introduction of the ELQ policy should be deferred, and referred to the 2009 Fees Commission for proper scrutiny. This would also allow time for improvements in data quality and procedures to support the implementation of the policy.

    —  That the ELQ policy be restricted to full time students (for whom the principle of a single entitlement to public funding at each stage of study can be supported), and that any further savings required be secured by an across-the-board efficiency gain. This will be more equitable between different types of student and institution.

    —  That the ELQ policy be restricted to qualifications obtained within a defined period, such as the previous five years, and so assist necessary reskilling by qualified learners.

January 2008

136   Approximately half of these full time students, and one-third of the part timers, are in strategically important and vulnerable subjects (SIVS), for which HEFCE proposes to provide a targeted funding allocation. Back

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