Submission from the University of Northampton
1. The University of Northampton very much
welcomes the initiative of the Innovation, Universities and Skills
(IUS) Committee to conduct an enquiry into the Government's recent
decision to phase out institutional support for students taking
second qualifications of an equivalent or lower level (ELQs) to
their first qualification.
2. We have responded to HEFCE's invitation
to consult on its proposals for implementing the Government's
decision whilst noting that there has not been an opportunity
to comment on the principle of the decision.
3. The University has welcomed the Government's
commitment to widening participation; to enhancing opportunities
for part-time study; to embracing the recommendations of the Leitch
report for raising skills levels, including those at higher levels
and to lifelong learning in general. As a business-facing University,
Northampton is close to employers and to its students who are
studying whilst working. The University is particularly committed
to widening participation among those without qualifications at
level 4 and upwards, especially those from "low participation
neighbourhoods". However, in its present form, we believe
the ELQ policy is ill-advised as it appears to run contrary to
Government and HEFCE encouragement and support for part-time opportunities
and reskilling/enhancement of the workforce.
4. We feel that the decision was taken without
a sufficiently clear view of its impact on other Government higher
education policies. The Governmentand HEFCEencourage
individuals to update/reskill themselves over a lifetime of learning,
whether or not the individual learner has already obtained a higher
education qualification. Employers are encouraged to contribute
to the cost of employees' upskilling. Many such programmes do
not include a full qualification per se but specific modules.
5. To withdraw funding from institutions
in respect of those with higher education qualifications who are
returning to study for these purposes is a clear disincentive
to retrain/upskill as institutions will inevitably be forced into
charging "full cost" fees and employers are unlikely
to make up to deficit. Indeed, the current decision would appear
to apply to "chunks" or "bites" of learning,
that are not full "qualifications".
6. It is this misleading of Ministers to
refer in press statements to "second degrees" as all
learning, whether a full award or an individual module, at an
"ELQ" level comes within the Government's decision,
subject to lying outside the Government and HEFCE's exclusions.
Qualifications of professional bodies, often an essential career
progression requirement, are at higher education levels equivalent
or lower to undergraduate and some postgraduate qualifications.
For example, some 60% of the students currently studying professional
qualifications in the Northampton Business School are in effect
7. We acknowledge HEFCE's appreciation of
the potential impact of the ELQ policy on part-time provision,
both on the individuals themselves and on those institutions that
have done most to develop flexible part-time provision. Many of
these students may have care responsibilities and may be seeking
to return to work, change their careers or enhance their life
changes. Others may be working around their full-time job to enhance
their qualifications. A large number of these students are not
funded by their employers; there is no evidence to suggest that
either these employersor, indeed, those who do fund their
employeeswould be prepared to pay the still higher fees
consequent upon the introduction of the ELQ policy. The policy
is additionally likely to have a negative impact on "non-ELQ"
students who attend a part-time course that has to close because
without the ELQ students the course is not viable. Increasing
the fees for non-ELQ students to cover lost fees is counter-intuitive.
This lack of stability for part-time courses has serious implications
for planning and staffing levels/contracts.
8. However, were there to be a case in principle
for the redirection of funds towards first-time entrants into
higher education, this University would be supportive of the exclusions
already indicated by the Government and HEFCE but would propose
that the exclusions be extended to all students studying part-time
and to those wishing to follow whole or part elements of formally
accredited professional qualifications which may be at the same
or lower level as an award they may already hold.
9. As the ELQ policy is to be implemented
from 2008-09, it does not seem logical to defer the application
of the £20 million "supplement" for part-time students
until 2009-10. Given HEFCE's current thinking on the introduction
of ELQ policy, institutions will be affected immediately.
10. The "safety net" proposal
is linked to the overall statistical basis on which the policy
is being implemented. Institutions, by having funding "withdrawn",
are in effect being fined for their successful implementation
of government policy in the "base" year 2005-06 for
which data are, in any case, essentially suspect as they were
not collected formally to establish students who would have been
"ELQ". Whilst institutions cannot expect to receive
funding in 08-09 on behalf of categories of students that, following
the consultation, are deemed to fall within the scope of the ELQ
policy it is inequitable on institutions to "withdraw"
funding (other than for continuing "ELQ" students) on
the basis of the 05-06 HESES data.
11. More generally, given the fundamental
nature of this shift in Government policy, it would have seemed
more logical for the proposal to be considered as part of the
comprehensive review of the current fees arrangements, scheduled
12. We are supportive of the exemptions
proposed by Government and HEFCE, but would extend these as proposed
in paragraph 8 above.
13. We are particularly concerned at the
impact on part-time students (see paragraph 7 above) and those
who require professional or other additional qualification to
progress in their careers and/or retrain to a different skill
set. We acknowledge HEFCE's "co-funded" arrangements
with employers, but take up is low, and it is highly unlikely
that employers as a whole will be prepared to fund the deficit
between current fee levels and "full" course costs.
14. This University is committed to increasing
opportunities for part-time students who want to learn flexibly,
whether at work, from home, or in the institution. We are also
committed to working with employers in the Northamptonshire area
to deliver appropriate higher level skills programmes for graduates
and non-graduates alike. We have embraced the message of the Leitch
report which is a vision for "21st century widening participation".
The ELQ decision will impact strongly on the ability of such students
to access this provision and will present additional pressure
on the University in seeking to diverse its student body, particularly
at a time, from 2010, when the numbers of 18 year olds is likely
15. The University hopes that the above
comments are of help, and would be pleased to provide more information
should the IUS Committee so wish.