Students and Universities - Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee Contents

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 400 - 414)



  Q400  Mr Marsden: It is an attitude. When I say attitude, it is a role model issue.

  Mr Ramsay: I suspect there is a tipping point that we have not reached. Heavily male industries like manufacturing or construction are not that encouraging for young women. You have to be quite feisty to get on in them.

  Q401  Mr Marsden: Could I come back to John Harris and then I will move on to the other witnesses. In its written evidence, SEMTA has talked about the issue of co-funding courses. You said, "where employers are co-funding courses the university may not be able to stipulate strict entry requirements in terms of prior qualifications" and "the employer may wish to nominate employees who have a wide range of prior achievement". I know there is always a bit of push and pull in these things, but you seem to be saying there that employers should be able to nominate students even if the university does not find them suitable or passing their initial entry requirements. Do you think that might be problematic?

  Mr John Harris: I do not think that is the issue we are making there. The point we are making there is a simple one. It is that where employers are co-funding a course, they obviously have a say in which of their employees attend that course. I think that is the point we are making.

  Q402  Mr Marsden: That is an existing issue.

  Mr John Harris: Yes.

  Q403  Mr Marsden: That is an existing situation.

  Mr John Harris: Yes.

  Q404  Mr Marsden: Are you pressing for an extension and an expansion of that process?

  Mr John Harris: No.

  Q405  Mr Marsden: John Crompton, perhaps I can come to you, again along this line of acceptance of higher education which comes via non traditional means and perhaps, particularly, acceptance by employers of these universities. There is an increasing amount of higher education which is being delivered by further education. In my own constituency, Blackpool, Blackpool and the Fylde College is an associate college of Lancaster University. Students of Blackpool and The Fylde College get their degrees from Lancaster. You were a former FE[1] college governor, I gather, for a number of years.

  Mr Crompton: Yes.

  Q406  Mr Marsden: Is that message getting through to employers, that the HE[2] degrees that come via an FE experience can be as valid and valuable as ones that come via traditional higher education universities?

  Mr Crompton: I think it is a change that is happening. I think the industry as a whole is beginning to accept it, whether they believe that it is horses for courses in the type of people coming out of those courses and coming to a certain area, rather than, say, going to a university—

  Q407  Mr Marsden: Are you making a distinction there between vocational courses and non-vocational courses? In terms of Procter & Gamble's recruitment, would that mean that if you were not looking at someone who had done a vocational degree but perhaps a more standard degree, you would look more askance at someone who had come to that degree via FE than via a traditional university?

  Mr Crompton: We would look at both. The vocational degree from further education and universities is more in a mix, and you have the other less vocational and more theoretical degree which is a different thing.

  Q408  Mr Marsden: Mike, you quoted in your evidence that 64% of directors in a June 2008 poll said that "employers took A-level results into account when recruiting young people because they were a good guide to ability." In view of the discussion we have just been having and, indeed, changing demographics, is it not going to be more sensible in future for some of your members to cast their net a bit more widely than just looking at A-levels as the gold standard, if that is what they do?

  Mr Mike Harris: You are absolutely right, and they were and they do. That particular result was drawn from a study that was particularly looking at A-levels and GCSEs and perceptions of them, and not: What do you look at to the exclusion of everything else? We are going to need to meet our skills needs via the non-traditional methods within HE, whether that is in FE or whether it is in the workplace—which is a very difficult thing to get right, particularly for small businesses—and I think a huge amount of credit has to go to quite a number of institutions that have really picked up the baton on that. It is much easier to identify those who are doing it well than those who perhaps have not got there yet. But that is something which our members support and we would just like to recognise the effort that has been put in already.

  Q409  Mr Marsden: Obviously the new boys on the block in terms of alternatives to A-levels—and obviously we have the IB[3] which has been around for some time—is this whole issue of apprenticeship expansion and diplomas. There are key questions there about whether universities will accept them as a higher education qualification. There is perhaps a sub-question about whether some of your employers will accept them in the same way. John Harris, do you have any views on that?

  Mr John Harris: It is an interesting point. Two of our large engineering companies, which I will not name, say that 50% of their professional engineers have come through their apprenticeship programmes, so they have come to FE, on to HE, and probably through professional institutions to become chartered engineers. That is an interesting situation. I think that goes on in smaller companies but it is not so visible, but certainly in larger companies it is very visible. Going onto the diploma, we see the diploma as a real opportunity to give young people an opportunity to learn about, in our case, engineering, and, when the science diploma comes on stream, about science, and to find out at a fairly young age if that is what they want to do. We are confident. I do not work directly with the diploma team but they have worked very closely with the universities and we are confident that advanced diploma graduates will be able to go into the university and continue their studies. It is a real opportunity for us.

  Q410  Mr Marsden: Andrew, from your perspective, are you equally sanguine about this?

  Mr Ramsay: Yes, we worked very closely with SEMTA and a number of other sector skills councils to improve the diploma. Our concern—which is not so different from the concern we expressed in our written evidence about the quality of maths of students entering university—was redoubled in the case of the diploma, but we have been able to establish additional learning which will be part of the diploma which will make it perfectly acceptable as an entry requirement, and we will be very pleased to see people come through that route because it will have given them some hands-on experience before they go to university.

  Q411  Mr Marsden: John, given your role for Procter & Gamble and the CBI, you must see an enormous amount of different attitudes in universities to the sorts of people recruiting. What is your experience through the universities to qualifications other than the gold standard A-levels? Also, there is a lot of talk, certainly from government, about employers paying significant sums of money for co-funded places. Is that going to be a realistic option for increase in an economic downturn?

  Mr Crompton: The diplomas are new. The big thing about the diplomas, when somebody gets to 18 with a diploma, is do they go into higher education or do they start work. That has to be shaken out, because there will be quite a few opportunities for people who leave with a diploma at 18 to start work and use their practical knowledge, operating equipment or working in a science lab. I am unsure how many of those are then going to go on to further education and what the design of it is. When they move from practical learning to some theoretical learning, how they are going to handle that with the maths is of concern.

  Mr Marsden: A very interesting point. Thank you.

  Q412  Chairman: In response to this co-funded issue, do you think it is going to be more difficult to get co-funded places now, given the economic recession, or are smart employers still going to say, "We want to support and get the best graduates into our business"?

  Mr Crompton: Employers are always going to want to get the smart people. They will work with the smart people and they will do that by making payment in kind, I would guess, which is going and giving courses at universities, going to schools, encouraging people to go through, and giving up time. I think they will continue to sponsor people through university. They will continue to do PhDs. It will not increase, that is for sure, over the next couple of years. I think you will find that a lot of it will be payment in kind.

  Mr Mike Harris: It is almost certain they will come under greater pressure, but I will be in a better position in about a week's time to give you further details, because we are just launching a survey to try to get a better grip on what exactly is happening to companies' training budgets—not with an intention to maintain investment in training in this coming year, but what kind of courses are now being considered and what is there any focus on. Is it things like degrees, or is it much more needs intensive, customer service skills or something like that for business? I do not have any data I can share with you now.

  Q413  Chairman: It would be useful if you could let us have that, because that would be very useful to enforce. A thought from you, Andrew, in terms of pressure on co-funding?

  Mr Ramsay: Obviously the recession will make a difference but there is an interesting article in this week's Economist about the extent of private as opposed to public funding going into higher education in a variety of countries and it draws the conclusion that the high standard in the United States of universities and their graduates, and to some extent in the United Kingdom, is due to the extent of private funding going into education, and that European universities have fallen behind because they rely almost exclusively on public funding.

  Q414  Chairman: John, do you have a comment?

  Mr John Harris: Employers do put an enormous amount of their money into universities The research that goes on, funded by employers, is colossal, and sometimes it is not visible, it is not known.

  Chairman: I would like to thank you all very much indeed for coming this morning. What has struck me very much is how positive you are about the product you are getting from our universities. All of you seem to be making that point. I thank you very much indeed.

1   Further education Back

2   Higher education Back

3   International Baccalaureate Back

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