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Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I am a little puzzled by the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Renfrew, in support of his amendment. I do not have too much difficulty with the amendment, but some of his statements in support of it puzzled me.
I am particularly worried by his suggestion that every department in every university would be writing plans. That does not seem to me to be a likely consequence of what is being proposed. It might be true of the research assessment exercise, under which universities are being assessed department by department, but in this case a central plan would be produced by that part of the university concerned with dealing with applications from students, with the marketing of the university and with the outreach of the university. It would not require every department to write a plan. Surely the noble Lord would agree with that.
I also wish to comment on one other matter that he raised. He said that it is entirely up to the schools to improve the range of students applying to our universities. I accept that the schools have an enormously important part to play, as do parents and others who influence young people, but I think that the universities have a part as well. It is a partnership between the student, their family, friends and those who influence them, schools, further education institutions and employers. We must not keep thinking that everybody who goes to university these days comes from schools. We know that huge numbers of mature students study in our system, many part time, and it is employers who count.
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In dealing with schools, FE colleges or employers, the universities have to be proactive. They have to play a role; they cannot simply sit there and wait for people to come, as happened 30 or 40 years ago. Therefore, I want to emphasise something that I did not think was emphasised by the noble Lord, Lord Renfrew. There is a part that universities have to play in supporting wider applications. The way in which universities do this can put people off; it can lead to fewer rather than more people from a wider range of backgrounds going to university.
If I may be anecdotal for a moment, I remember, when I was at Birkbeck, being worried by the very small number of ethnic minority students who were coming to study in an institution which was, after all, giving a second chance to a wide range of Londoners and people from beyond London. I found that we had not done anything to go out and encourage them to come and they did not see it as a place to which they could go. When we did so, however, a large number of students from black and Asian communities in London went there to study.
I support what the Government are doing here because it encourages everybody who works in universities to try harder by a whole variety of different policies to work with employers and educational institutions which support young people, and older, mature, people who want to continue their studies in higher education.
Baroness Warnock: My Lords, in supporting the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Renfrew, I feel I must respond to the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, on two counts. First, in a number of universities, individual departments will have to make their own plans or at least contribute very heavily to those of the university. Part of what makes it difficult to attract applicants from some schools is the immense gap between what they have done at school and what they will be expected to do at university, and they are very conscious of that. There are particular difficulties in attracting applications to study modern languages, to say nothing of the classics, and mathematics. Special courses have been laid on for years in Cambridgethis would be part of the planto introduce candidates who have scraped through their A-level mathematics but no more to concepts that they would never have heard of if they had not had at least a month of special teaching when they came to Cambridge.
On the second point about universities being inactive, I am sure that some have been. However, in 1971, when my husband became principal of Hertford College, Oxford, a very energetic project was already ongoing, which was supported by undergraduates and by a specially appointed Fellow of the college, to talk to pupils in schools in inner cities and try to persuade them to apply to Oxford. So I do not think it is true that universities have been doing nothing for 30 or
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40 years. As for the plans, I am afraid they would involve a good deal of work by the university, department by department.
Lord Dearing: My Lords, I welcome the Government's proposal, even though I am something of a minimalist regarding OFFA's role. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Renfrew, that if we are to solve the problem of access, the main solution must lie in schools improving achievement at GSCE, achieving increased staying-on rates and achieving increased numbers of students getting at least two decent A-levels. However, I am not with the noble Lord in undervaluing or underestimating the contribution that individual universities can and should make.
I know something of the University of Hull, my own university. I have been engaged with it in taking very determined action in a city which for years had the poorest GCSE results in the country. We went out to young people to get them to raise their aspirations by guaranteeing them a place at the university if they attended a course and did reasonably well. The University of Dundee does the same in summer schools, as does the University of Glamorganthe University of the Valleys. Universities can do a great deal. In addition, generous bursary schemes will be very influential.
I believe that the essence of the thinking here is to get each university to take personal responsibility for going out to and encouraging those from disadvantaged backgrounds to raise their aspirations and help them to see their opportunities. I am a little doubtful about what OFFA, sitting somewhere with, it is to be hoped, a very small number of people, can do with regard to this. I am not sure that those kids would be very influenced by worthy pieces of paper sent out from some central body. I think it requires personal contact and the people, in great numbers, who can make those personal contacts are the institutions.
On training, I am very glad that the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, has changed the wording of her proposal to "promote". However, I have a problem about the word. I took the trouble to look it up in my dictionaries and I was not much wiser. I am in favour if it means to encourage. In sport, it means taking financial responsibility for; does it mean removing responsibility from universities or minimising it in their decision to train their staff in good practice, as is necessary? I am in favour of encouraging them but not of telling them what to do. I have some reservations about the word.
Baroness Lockwood: My Lords, unlike the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, I have no difficulty with Amendment No. 25. It would give the Director of Fair Access the responsibility and duty to promote training. To my way of thinking, to promote training will ensure that appropriate training takes place. Where it is not taking place, there will be a power for OFFA to ensure that or to work through other institutions to ensure that.
Like the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, I think there is a great need for training in this area. The more organisations that are aware of that, the better that
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will be, so long as their efforts can be co-ordinated. I see that as part of the duty to promote that OFFA would have.
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I was much taken with what the noble Lord, Lord Renfrew, said about the importance of raising aspirations. I shall not go over ground that has already been covered in terms of the need for this to be a "both/and" provision, not an "either/or" one. It is about all those who have the ability to empower young people or help them make the right decisions to act in their various different ways to achieve that. There is a great deal of unanimity among noble Lords about that.
There is an important distinction to make between the role of the Director of Fair Access and the role of the institutions. We have said that the role of the director is, in principle, to approve and monitor the access plans, which set out the measures that the institutions are taking. In return, as we describedthis is the something for somethingthey will be able to raise their fees.
I believe that the director's role in overseeing access plans will result in more applications from under-represented groups. But it is important that it is the institutions themselves that do the outreach and provide the bursaries. It is they, not the director, that will be directly involved in encouraging applications from under-represented groups, building onas has been indicated many timesthe good work already being done in this area. The director's role is that of regulator. It is important that this is in the context of all the other players who help young people strive for greater opportunities in their lives.
The director will have a role in identifying and disseminating good practice. However, it is the good practice of institutions that the director will be identifying rather than his own. Therefore, although I share the noble Lord's concern for fair access, I cannot agree that the duty to encourage applications should lie directly with the director. It should be a duty placed on institutions by the commitments they make in their plans, should they decide to charge higher variable fees. On that basis, I hope that the noble Lord is able to withdraw his amendment.
Amendment No. 25 would add a duty for the director to promote appropriate training to the power to identify and advise on good practice proposed by my amendment. The noble Baroness will not be surprised to hear that there is a technical defect with the amendment because "may . . . have a duty" is not correct. However, I recognise what the noble Baroness seeks to achieve. I am grateful for her explanation of the change that she has made from Committee by asking the director to promote such training. However, I assure the noble Baroness that an amendment is not necessary to achieve that aim because the director would be empowered, through the government amendment that I put forward, to promote opportunities for training and encourage institutions to take them up, although it would be for the institution to decide whether to do so.
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I acknowledge the importance of training and development. As the noble Baroness will know, probably better than me, a lot of informal training is already available through individual institutionsAimhigher Partnerships, Action on Access, the National Disability Team and the Learning and Teaching Support Networka great deal of which is shared at conferences and workshops held by different bodies. I have every expectation that the director will use these opportunities to promote good practice.
I do not feel that it would be right to place a legal duty on the director to promote appropriate training. He is empowered to promote good practice through the government amendment, and on the basis that he is likely to become aware of a great deal of such practice, including training, I am sure that the director will, over time, play a significant role. I am not sure that giving him an explicit duty adds anything in that context. On that basis, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.
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