Select Committee on Innovation, Universities and Skills Written Evidence

Memorandum 95

Submission from the Bloomsbury Colleges of the University of London


  1.  The Bloomsbury Colleges are six specialist Colleges of the University of London. The Colleges have features that mean that, as a group, they are particularly adversely affected by the ELQ proposals.

  2.  This impact reflects the specialist nature of the Bloomsbury Colleges, focused on professionally relevant qualifications and the re-skilling and up-skilling of the London and UK workforce. As a result, the ELQ proposals will create additional impediments to the Colleges contributing to the UK's need for higher level skill development.

  3.  The Colleges do not believe that the relative impact of these changes on the UK's overall economic effectiveness has been adequately evaluated. Given the disproportionate impact of the proposals on certain types of institution, with attendant consequences for students, the Colleges believe that the implementation of the proposals should be deferred pending a more fundamental review, in the context of the review of tuition fees as a whole.

  This submission is made on behalf of the Bloomsbury Colleges, University of London by:

  Professor Paul Webley. Chair of the Bloomsbury Colleges and Director and Principal of SOAS.


  1.  The Bloomsbury Colleges are six specialist colleges of the University of London based in or around the Bloomsbury area. They comprise Birkbeck, Institute of Education, London School of Hygiene and Tropical medicine, Royal Veterinary College, School of Pharmacy and School of Oriental and African Studies. These six Colleges are independent university institutions. However, they work collaboratively together in order to better pursue their specialist missions.

  2.  The Bloomsbury Colleges collectively provide specialist learning experiences for over 30,000 students annually.

Why are the Bloomsbury Colleges making this submission?

  3.  The Bloomsbury Colleges are specialist institutions. Their specialisms are either disciplinary, focusing on particular subjects or groups of subjects, or related to the types of students that they serve. The individual Colleges are either leaders in their disciplinary fields or in the modes of study that they provide.

  4.  Analysis of the impact of the introduction of the ELQ policy indicates that:

    —  15 of the 20 institutions experiencing the largest percentage decrease in income as a result of the policy are London based institutions. Of the total reduction in funding for students studying for ELQ's, 31% will fall on London based institutions; and

    —  11 of the 20 institutions experiencing the largest percentage decrease in income as a result of the policy are specialist institutions, with four of the six Bloomsbury Colleges amongst the 20 worst affected;

    —  The policy will impact disproportionately on post-graduate provision as opposed to undergraduate provision. In general, post-graduate taught courses will experience a 13.1% reduction in funding, compared to a 3.6% reduction for undergraduate courses, with the impact being most severe on post-graduate part-time courses.

  5.  These features of the impact of the ELQ policy mean that the Bloomsbury Colleges, as specialist, London based institutions with a high (and in some cases almost exclusively) post-graduate populations will be disproportionately affected by the proposals. Consequently, the Bloomsbury Colleges are submitting this collective submission to the Select Committee enquiry.

Why is the impact on the Bloomsbury Colleges significant?

  6.  The Bloomsbury Colleges are leading providers of high-quality professionally relevant courses and qualifications. Their work is of substantial regional as well as national and international significance. With strong links supporting the professional and academic development of key professional groups across healthcare and education, and in re-skilling part-time learners across a range of disciplines, the Bloomsbury Colleges play a key role in developing the skills of London's and the UK's workforce. Some illustrative examples of these contributions are:

    —  support for women graduates returning to the workforce after bringing up families through re-skilling on a part-time basis on a Birkbeck degree course;

    —  support for highly qualified scientists who have made the transition to teaching and wish to develop their professional understanding though a Masters in Science Education at the Institute of Education;

    —  support for healthcare professionals seeking to develop specialist skills in the control of infectious diseases through post-graduate study at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine; or

    —  late entrants to Pharmacy with other relevant qualifications, needing to achieve the 4-year undergraduate Master of Pharmacy degree qualification, followed by one-year's pre-registration training, in order to secure registration with the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain.

  7.  The Bloomsbury Colleges are concerned that the ELQ proposals will divert resources away from supporting high-level skills development that is fundamental to the economic competitiveness of the UK, to lower level qualifications that will have a less significant impact. The prioritisation of entry level qualifications over the need for up-skilling and re-skilling appears to the Bloomsbury Colleges to run counter to the Government's own skills agenda. The disproportionate impact of the ELQ proposals on certain institutions (as outlined above) is also likely to weaken the financial sustainability of the very institutions best placed, through their strong professional links and specialist missions, to contribute to the delivery of the skills agenda.

  8.  In addition to this overarching contradiction with a key Government priority underpinning the UK's economic competitiveness, the ELQ proposals also appear to run counter to a range of other Government policy priorities. For example, Ministers have as yet declined to confirm that the ELQ policy will not impact differently on teachers in FE Colleges in comparison with those in the Schools sector, where certain exemptions have been announced. If this is the case, then the professional development of the teaching and lecturing staff that will be instrumental in delivering the basic skills agenda will be undermined at precisely the time when Government is seeking to raise standards.

  9.  Similarly, Pharmacists are recognised as an area of skills shortage within the UK, appearing on the UK Skills Shortage Occupations list and with 6.5% of Junior Pharmacists posts in the NHS vacant. DH and WAG supported research has indicated that over the next 10 years, the numbers of pharmacists will need to grow by 5% per annum. However, in order to achieve these growth targets will require an expansion in non-traditional entry routes including re-training. The ELQ proposals will impose significant barriers on those needing re-training to enter Pharmacy and so create a impediment to achieving the required level of expansion.

  10.  The specialist missions of the Bloomsbury Colleges place constraints on their ability to mitigate the impact of the ELQ proposals. Across Healthcare and Education, employer co-funding would require additional public funds from other Government Departments. The Colleges are unaware of any agreements that have been reached on how employer co-funding, where the employer is a public body, will operate following the introduction of these proposals. Other relevant Departments (for example DCSF or DH) appear not to have been consulted prior to the proposals being made.

  11.  Furthermore, the Bloomsbury Colleges are not well positioned to develop proposals that might respond to the prioritisation of entry level qualifications over higher-level skills. For example, as predominantly post-graduate institutions, neither the Institute of Education nor the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine provide programmes that might contribute directly to the further widening of participation. If they were to do so, for example by the Institute of Education developing a substantial undergraduate offering, this would undermine their specialist missions, reduce the diversity of the HE sector as a whole and be unlikely to deliver cost-effective provision for students.

What do the Bloomsbury Colleges think should happen now?

  12.  The Bloomsbury Colleges believe that the impact of the ELQ proposals on institutions, on the economic competitiveness of the UK and on the diversity of the HE sector will be substantial. The proposals will have a disproportionate impact on institutions that are pursuing specialist missions; based in London, with its substantial demand for high skill employees in the Labour market; and focused on high-level or post-graduate skills development. The Bloomsbury Colleges do not believe that the impact of the proposals on individuals, institutions and on the economy as a whole has been subject to sufficient analysis.

  13.  In this context, the Colleges believe that the implementation of the proposals from September 2008 would be premature. Deferring implementation would allow wider consideration of the implications of the proposals across public policy priorities and in relation to their impact on UK skills development and economic competitiveness. It would also enable these proposed changes in funding arrangements for certain categories of students to be considered in the context of the wider review of tuition fees for students as a whole. There appears to be no clear rationale for moving forward with one aspect of the balance of private and public funding for HE study in advance of the planned review of this issue in 2009.

  14.  The Bloomsbury Colleges therefore recommend to the Committee that it should advise Government to defer implementation of the ELQ proposals subject to a more thorough review, in the context of the overall review of tuition fees.

January 2008

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