17 Jan 2008

Select Committee hears funding changes evidence from Open University Vice-Chancellor

OU Vice-Chancellor Professor Brenda Gourley gives evidence to Select Committee;

Committee considers changes to institutional funding of universities for Equivalent or Lower Qualification (ELQ) students;

470 written submissions of evidence to the Innovation, Universities and Skills Committee – of a total of 478 – oppose the funding changes.

Open University Vice-Chancellor Professor Brenda Gourley is among those opposed to university funding changes and she accordingly gave evidence to the Innovation, Universities and Skills Select Committee this morning (Thursday, January 17). At issue are proposed changes to the funding of universities for students taking second higher education level qualifications at an equivalent or lower level than their first.

Additional first degree students should not be funded at the expense of ELQ students, Professor Gourley told the Committee. The Government is proposing that £100m reallocated from institutional funding for ELQ students be used to allow a further 20,000 people to study full-time – or more still if they study part-time.

Professor Gourley told the Committee: “The risk of moving the funding from one group to another is just too great. I think both should be supported, (otherwise) we are risking the skill set that we need for a first-world economy.”

She was a member of a panel alongside Professor David Latchman, Master of Birkbeck, University of London; Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union; and Gemma Tumelty, president of the National Union of Students.

Professor Gourley also reported that a recent survey showed that 75 per cent of ELQ students at the OU were studying for vocational reasons. She added that about 12 per cent of those surveyed had received financial support from their employer to help to meet their study fees.

Speaking after the Committee hearing, Professor Gourley said: “Now that the case against the proposed funding changes has been made to the Committee so vehemently, we look forward with interest to seeing its findings and recommendations. The level of concern about the changes – which continues from quarters as diverse as business organisations, unions and student groups – remains as gratifying as ever.

“Indeed, the fact that 470 of the 478 submissions of written evidence that the Committee has received opposed the changes (reported at the Committee this morning) is testimony to this significant level of concern.

“We also await the publication of the report arising from the consultation into the changes by the Higher Education Funding Council for England.

“However, as was made clear to the Committee, it is the fundamental principle of the changes that remains of most concern. Discouraging students to upskill or reskill, as the changes will undoubtedly do, will have such a negative impact on individuals and their career development, as well as on the wider economy.”

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