Dearing says reforms need more funding;Lifelong Learning

27th February 1998 at 00:00
After much ministerial wrangling, the Government has published its plans for an education system offering a lifetime of courses to fulfil the needs of the new century with its ever-more rapid technological change

Government reforms of higher education will mean a better deal for students - but could be fatally undermined without money, the architect of those reforms, Lord Dearing has warned.

The committee's huge report on the future of higher education has been accepted almost in full this week by Labour's education team - except for the controversial issue of student loans which this week was the subject of a lobby of students, politicians and pop stars at the House of Commons.

That will pave the way for more students, greater access for people from traditionally under-represented groups, increasingly flexible courses with a greater focus on key skills, more rigorous standards for courses and a new professional status for teachers and lecturers.

It should also mean fuller, clearer information for schools and potential students on course content and outcomes. And the Government supports attempts to find an admissions system where students apply for places after their A-level results come out instead of before.

David Blunkett's team has taken Sir Ron (now Lord) Dearing's call for a compact between Government, higher education and students and the world of work and put it at the heart of its reforms.

It accepts the call to lift the cap on student numbers, and agrees that much expansion will be at sub-degree level, largely delivered by further education colleges.

It envisages modular courses, with stopping-off points so students can move in and out of education and also trade up qualifications.

But although the document points to cash already committed to a string of initiatives, future funding depends on the Government's all-encompassing spending review.

Lord Dearing said: "I am heartened, but until we see what the money is we are all suspending judgment on what lifting the cap on numbers means and how committed the Government is to ensuring we maintain a world-class research capability."

Dearing Committee recommendations accepted by the Government include: * A new institute for learning and teaching in higher education to spread good practice and enhance the professional skills and status of teachers;

* All teachers eventually to hold a professional qualification;

* Clearer standards, a pool of external examiners and a code of practice;

* A national scheme to make outstanding lectures available to all, possibly on video or by broadcasting;

* A work placement option for every student;

* Progress files for each student, tracking their achievement, possibly linked to an individual number for each student.

It also supports closer links with industry and agrees university research should become more commercial.

Kim Howells, minister for lifelong learning, said the reforms would "break down the fortress walls of so many of our institutions. We have got to make much more use of our universities. We haven't even begun to tap their potential."

Nicolas Barnard

Copies of Higher Education for the 21st Century: Response to the Dearing Report available from DFEE Publications Centre, PO Box 5050, Sudbury, Suffolk CO10 6ZQ

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