28 Jan 2008

University funding changes: funding council report disappoints

Funding changes: the OU responds

Funding changes: the OU responds

The report of consultations into funding changes by the Higher Education Funding Council for England flags little relief for the hardest-hit students, according to The Open University.

University Vice-Chancellor Professor Brenda Gourley said: “It is with a combination of frustration and disappointment that we note the outcome of the consultation by the Higher Education Funding Council for England into the withdrawal of funding for equivalent or lower qualifications.”
The consultation considered the implementation of plans to end the funding of universities for students taking second higher level qualifications at an equivalent or lower level than their first.

The funding changes – which will lead to more than £30m of the University’s teaching grant being phased out – will undermine the University’s capacity to deliver the lifelong learning agenda.

Professor Gourley said: “It is reassuring to note some of the decisions of the HEFCE board, including consideration to be given to the idea of exempting students who receive the Disabled Students Allowance. In addition, the decision that Open University students studying in Northern Ireland will not be affected by the funding changes answers the OU’s call for these students to be treated in the same way as ELQ students at other institutions in Northern Ireland.

“However, it is disappointing to see that – notwithstanding the decision to review annually the list of subjects for which ELQ students will be funded – some subjects for which the University has suggested ELQ funding continues remain omitted from the list of exemptions; they include ICT and computing. Equally compelling cases for extending exemptions to include specific groups of students, such as those on low incomes or women returning to work after caring responsibilities, have not been accepted by the HEFCE Board.

“It is, furthermore, the fundamental principle of the funding changes for ELQ students – rather than the implementation of the changes on which the funding council was consulting – that remains of most concern. The new policy discourages students from upskilling or reskilling, and it discourages institutions from catering to them. The negative impact on individuals and their career development, on institutions and on the wider economy remains of particular concern.

“The lack of consultation before the announcement of the changes some six months ago also remains a major concern; consultation merely on the implementation of the changes was far from sufficient.”

The University’s grant from HEFCE for 2008/09 – when the funding changes will be introduced – will be announced on March 6.

Professor Gourley added: “We are also awaiting with interest the publication of the findings of the Innovation, Universities and Skills Select Committee inquiry into this issue.”

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