A bid to catch up with rival nations

25th July 1997 at 01:00
Josephine Gardiner summarises the key points of Sir Ron's review.

First principles

If Britain is to be a competitive world economy over the next 20 years, we must create a society committed to learning throughout life. The classic pattern of higher education - three A-levels followed by three years at university - must give way to a more flexible definition.

The historic split between academic and vocational education should be healed. All parties involved or affected by higher education - students, universities, the economy, employers and the state - should enter into a new "compact" in which each is more aware of obligations to the others.

A balance must be struck between seeking a greater contribution from graduates and ensuring that this does not act as a disincentive for school-leavers. Higher education should continue to act as the "conscience of a democratic society founded on respect for the rights of the individual".

Higher education should continue to expand, with participation increasing from the present 32 per cent to 45 per cent or more to bring the UK in line with other advanced nations. But much of the expansion should be at "sub-degree" level - such as higher national certificates and higher national diplomas.


Certain groups - the poor, the disabled, and some ethnic groups - are still under-represented in higher education. Universities which can demonstrate a commitment to including these people should get more money. The disabled student allowance should not be means-tested.

The Government should restore some entitlement to social security benefit to students.Tuition fees for part-time students on the jobseeker's allowance should be waived. The Government should also consider scrapping the 16-hour rule preventing the unemployed taking on courses.

Courses and qualifications

Students should be able to study a broader range of subjects. Specialists should be encouraged to understand their area in a broader context.

A framework of qualifications is proposed, with more scope for students to transfer credits earned in one institution to another. Dearing envisages "individuals building up a portfolio of achievements at a range of levels over a working lifetime".

Students should keep "key skills" (literacy, numeracy, information technology) sharpened throughout their courses.


Diversity of institutions engaged in higher education must not lead to a lowering of standards. There should be more control of titles of institutions, such as the use of the term "university" or "university college" so students and employers are clear about their status.

Sub-degree provision should be expanded, and this should take place in further education colleges. But there should be no growth in degree-level qualifications provided by FE colleges. There should be a new system for deciding whether and where new universities should be established - Dearing notes that in Northern Ireland, 40 per cent of students have to leave the province to pursue higher education.


Expenditure per student has been reduced by 40 per cent since 1976; the report concludes that the current plans to reduce this by a further 6.5 per cent over the next three years, coupled with cuts in capital funding since 1995, cannot continue without affecting quality.

Dearing estimates that an extra Pounds 350 million is needed in 199899 and Pounds 565m in 19992000. In 20 years time, an extra Pounds 2 billion will be needed, based on 1996 prices. "The costs of higher education should be shared among those who benefit from it," - and the chief beneficiaries are graduates, who should therefore make a bigger contribution to the costs of their courses.

From 199899, students should have to pay back 25 per cent of the costs of their tuition once they find work, the amount and length of repayment dependent on level of income. While at university, living costs should be paid via a 5050 combination of grant and loan, as at present, but the loan payback will be related to income. Tuition contribution should be the same across all courses - a flat rate of 25 per cent of the average cost of tuition - so that people are not barred from expensive or prestigious courses for financial reasons.

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