27 Mar 2008

University funding changes: the OU responds to Select Committee report

OU responds to funding report

OU responds to funding report

Critical Select Committee report on university funding confirms critics’ worries about policy change, says The Open University

The Committee report brings into sharp focus the concerns of universities, students and others about the long-term consequences of the policy

The University welcomes the Committee’s findings and urges its recommendations for reviewing the impact of the policy change are adopted

The report by the Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee into the withdrawal of funding for equivalent or lower qualifications (ELQs) endorses the widespread concerns about the policy, notes The Open University – one of the universities affected most by the change.

The Committee report says that the Government’s decision to cut funding for students in England who are studying for a second higher education qualification at an equivalent or lower level than their first is “premature and not based on hard evidence of its likely effectiveness”. The funding changes mean that the OU – even with safety netting and transitional measures in place - is faced with an effective real terms cut in funding from the Higher Education Funding Council for England of £2.1m in 2008/09, £5.9m in 2009/10, £9.9m in 2010/11 and up to £29.7m in 2011/12.

Open University Vice-Chancellor Professor Brenda Gourley said: “While it is pleasing to see the Committee agree with many of the concerns that we and others raised after the funding change was announced, the important task now is to do all we can to ensure that the Committee’s recommendations for the implementation of the policy are adopted. We look forward to the implementation of the suggested review by the Commission for Employment and Skills on the effects of the withdrawal of institutional funding for ELQ students, and to the proposed Government review of the exemptions policy.

“We share the Committee’s view that the transitional arrangements for university funding and exemptions for students who are taking specified subjects are inconsistent and could prove inadequate.

“The Open University agrees with the Committee’s conclusion that overall support for part-time students remains precarious and that these proposals are in danger of undermining improvements and current progress.

“The Committee’s comments about the policy change removing the flexibility in the system that allows employees to acquire new skills also reflect the concerns from the OU and others in this area.”

The University has consistently raised concerns about the discouragement of students from upskilling or reskilling – and the subsequent impact on individuals’ career development, on higher education institutions and on the wider economy. Three-quarters of ELQ students at The Open University are studying wholly or partly for vocational reasons.

Professor Gourley, who was among those who gave oral evidence to the Committee at its inquiry in January, added: “The report also highlights the confusion across the higher education sector that the policy change has created – evidenced by the Committee’s recommendation for the Government to produce urgently guidance for higher education institutions and students about the new funding rules. We welcome such a recommendation.

“We still believe that withdrawing public support for ELQ students puts the professional development of the nation’s highly skilled workforce in jeopardy and threatens the UK’s economic health and international competitiveness. We will however do all we can to replace the lost funding for teaching – including bidding for additional student numbers; seeking extra funds to help to support growth in key areas, such as widening participation and employer engagement; and enhancing existing courses and services to engage with new student markets.”

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