Select Committee on Innovation, Universities and Skills Written Evidence

Memorandum 84

Submission from the Arts Institute at Bournemouth


  1.  The Arts Institute at Bournemouth welcomes the opportunity to provide evidence to the Select Committee.

  2.  In general, we support the Government's desire to ensure that support is targeted at those who have not previously had the opportunity to benefit from higher education. However we are concerned that the timing of the decision, and speed of implementation, has not permitted due consideration of all the issues.

  3.  In particular, we note that institutions are encouraged to engage in medium-term strategic planning for sustainability, which is undermined by the proposed speed of implementation.

  4.  Whilst strongly support the exemptions for Foundation Degree students and co-funded places, we believe that two further types of course should be considered. The first are "conversion courses" for a profession, which may bring significant economic benefit but are less easily identified. The second are part-time courses, which will be disproportionately affected by the change. Many of these may be rendered non-viable through the withdrawal of a high number of their students.

  5.  We do not believe that we should comment on the implications for other institutions, but we note that the effect of any change in Government policy will differ according to institutional type and mission. We believe that any change, once agreed, should be implemented systematically to ensure that the intentions of the policy are delivered.


 (i)   the arguments for and against the Government's decision to phase out support to institutions for students studying ELQs;

  6.  The Arts Institute at Bournemouth does not have strong views about the decision to phase out support for students studying ELQs. We understand the desire to ensure that support is targeted at those who have not previously had the opportunity to benefit from higher education, but we also note that the UK economy benefits considerably from those who decide, at a later point in their careers, to retrain and move into a new profession. Hence whilst we can see a strong rationale for the policy change, we can also see significant disbenefits.

  7.  We are disappointed that the Government announced this decision without first consulting with the sector, through the Higher Education Funding Council for England, about the implications of such a change, such that the benefits and potential challenges could be evaluated thoroughly by those who have the best professional understanding of this matter.

 (ii)   the timing of the decision and of the implementation of the change;

  8.  The Higher Education sector has been characterised, over the last fifteen years, by its flexibility, and its ability to implement change in short timescales with minimum disruption to student learning and institutional stability. Nevertheless, we were surprised by the speed of this change, which required the Funding Council to adjust institutional student number contracts for 2008-09 using assumptions based on historical data from 2005-06, and to notify institutions in October 2007 of changes which would take effect from October 2008. At a time when the sector is being strongly encouraged to prioritise planning and medium- to long-term strategy, such an immediate and short-term change appeared counter-intuitive.

  9.  We acknowledge the proposal to ensure that institutions do not receive a lower cash value than in previous years, which is intended to mitigate the speed of implementation, but we do not consider that this represents a sensible or sustainable approach to planning.

 (iii)   the exemptions from the withdrawal of funding proposed by the Higher Education Funding Council for England;

  10.  We believe that the exemptions proposed by the Funding Council are proportionate and are broadly reasonable to facilitate the delivery of the policy with the least disruption to the sector in the short term.

  11.  Specifically, we believe it is logical to exempt students who are studying for Foundation Degrees as an ELQ, as such courses may be at the forefront of the upskilling / reskilling agenda prioritised elsewhere by the Government.

  12.  However we note that there are also conversion courses (now Graduate Certificates or Diplomas, often previously Masters courses) through which a graduate of a Humanities subject can "convert" to a profession. The fact that these courses are not exempt is counter-intuitive. Of course we accept that it is easy to identify Foundation Degree students, but fee status should not depend simply on ease of identification, and these courses may also have a significant economic benefit. We cannot, however, suggest other ways in which "employment-focused" courses can be identified; all higher education courses seek to prepare their students for employment, through the delivery of knowledge, skills, and personal transformation.

  13.  We note that work conducted by the Equality Challenge Unit suggests that the exemptions also mitigate much of the equality impact of the policy proposal.

 (iv)   the impact upon students, including whether the change will affect some groups of students more than others;

  14.  We are very concerned about the possible impact on part-time study of these proposals, given that this group is disproportionately affected. As noted in the consultation, it is likely that many part-time courses would be rendered non-viable by the removal of funding for ELQ students. This situation is unlikely to be addressed through the securing of additional numbers, as many courses will already offer places to all those who have the capacity to benefit, rather than operating a strongly selective process.

  15.  We, along with many other institutions, have previously fed back to the Council the challenges of part-time provision because demand is inelastic; were we to charge the proportionate rate, we would not recruit sufficiently well to run any part-time HE courses. Hence many part-time courses are either subsidised, or at best offered with marginal costs; and the removal of some of the applicant pool may have a terminal impact. The transitional funding suggested in the consultation is welcome, but is unlikely to be sufficient to address the funding gap; and any impact on enrolments would take place in a "live test" scenario and hence might not be retrievable.


 (v)   the impact of the change upon institutions, with particular reference to the long-term implications for specialised institutions such as the Open University and Birkbeck College London.

  16.  We do not believe that it is appropriate for us to comment on the future viability of other institutions, which will no doubt make their own representations.

  17.  However we have noted a suggestion that, where necessary, transition funding should continue beyond the three years initially envisaged by the Funding Council. We believe that this should occur only in the most exceptional of circumstances. The Funding Council should prioritise its discussions with those institutions most significantly affected, and ensure that each has a suitable transition strategy in place. Continued additional support, outside the three-year period, would not support the future stability of the sector, and would contravene the principle of equal and consistent treatment. We believe that any specific interventions should not favour any particular institutions.

  18.  We note that it is part of the historical mission of some institutions, including those identified in the question, to deliver higher education to a group which is likely to include those who have previously undertaken a qualification at a similar or higher level. If Government policy determines that such an approach should not receive priority support, but that this should instead be focused on those who have not had the opportunity to benefit from higher education, then it is inevitable that there will be a significant impact on those institutions for whom this is a major part of their "core business". We have previously noted our criticism of the timing and speed of the decision and its implementation; but it would not be surprising if some institutions found such circumstances very challenging.

  19.  We do not believe that the Government was fully cognisant of the likely impact of the proposed changes, having not undertaken analysis or consultation in advance; but we would wish to encourage a systematic implementation of any final decision, which would include the re-distribution of some student numbers (and hence funding) to those institutions which have been successful in attracting, and delivering to, non-traditional entrants.

January 2008

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