24.1 This report sets out a major programme of change for higher education over the next twenty years. Our vision for the future is clear. Although our outlook has been to the long term, our detailed recommendations necessarily focus on the first steps towards that vision. We hope that the legacy of our work will be a higher education system which is well-placed to develop and respond as new challenges and circumstances arise, including those which we cannot foresee from the perspective of 1997. Our recommendations add up to a coherent package for the future of higher education. We do not intend that those to whom they are addressed should choose to implement only some of them. The new compact requires commitment from all sides.
24.2 We have addressed our recommendations to those who should, in our view, be responsible for taking them forward. Where it is possible to set a specific timescale for the necessary action, we have done so. Some of our recommendations require organisations to undertake substantial developmental work before they can be implemented, and some are of less immediate urgency than others. We are conscious of the need not to overload organisations with too many tasks at once: it is often better to focus energy and attention on the most important and urgent work, but that does not mean that our recommendations for the medium and longer term can be ignored. Recommendations which we have described as for implementation over the medium term are those which should generally be implemented within the next three to five years, although work in preparation for that may well need to start immediately. Those recommendations which we suggest should be implemented over the long term are those which require even more substantial preparatory work or the prior implementation of other recommendations before they can be put into effect. Most of them are unlikely to be implemented in less than five years.
24.3 The recommendations are addressed to a wide range of bodies who have varying responsibilities in relation to higher education. Table 24.1 shows the allocation.
We give below some guidance on the immediate priorities
24.5 As we have identified in Chapter 17, there is an immediate short term problem with the funding of higher education. If this is not addressed by the Government, there is a real danger that some institutions will be severely damaged and that others will take unilateral action, for example through the introduction of top-up fees, which together will make it impossible for our long term vision to be realised.
24.6 If the Government accepts our proposals on funding, it will need to introduce primary legislation because it does not currently have the power to make loans available in support of students tuition costs or to give effect to our proposals for income-contingent collection of loan repayments through the Inland Revenue. Introduction of the relevant legislation must be the priority if additional resources are to flow to higher education in 1998-99. We are encouraged that the Government has already indicated its intention of introducing early legislation.
24.7 The same degree of urgency will need to be applied to the complex process of implementation. If implementation on this timescale cannot be achieved, alternative means of providing additional resources in the short term will have to be found, but the options are not attractive. We have already explained why short term moves to remove student loans from the public sector are unlikely to represent good value for money. The only other immediate source of resources, apart from the taxpayer, is the parents of students.
24.8 Our proposals on funding do not stand in isolation. They are part of a new compact between all the stakeholders of higher education. The Government must therefore commit itself just as firmly and with the same urgency to the other elements of that compact, if all who are involved in higher education are to be encouraged to play their part. This means that the early legislation we propose must include for a procedure to govern any review of the contribution to be made by graduates. It must also ensure that new arrangements are well-publicised and explained clearly to prospective students and their families.
24.9 Universities and colleges have pressed hard for a solution to the funding crisis which they perceive. We have made proposals which should place them on a firmer financial footing. But institutions need to take urgent action too. They owe it to students and to the taxpayer to make sure that they make the best possible use of the available resources. They must secure appropriate management and cost information systems to support this as quickly as possible. They will need the help of the Funding Bodies and their representative bodies to ensure that all know what the best can do. Work on developing appropriate benchmarks is urgent. They must ensure that their governance arrangements enable them to carry this forward
Quality and standards
24.10 In return for additional contributions from graduates, institutions must make much clearer what they are offering to students. They must work continually to improve the quality of teaching and they must approach the mutual assurance of standards with real commitment. Anything less would be to sell their students short. The immediate requirement from institutions is that, acting collectively, they give the Quality Assurance Agency all the support and facilities it needs to be fully effective and that they establish the Institute for Learning and Teaching in Higher Education, and give it also the necessary support and facilities. Edexcel will also need to work closely with institutions and the Quality Assurance Agency to bring the Higher National provision in line with our proposed framework.
24.11 Our recommendations place great expectations on the new Quality Assurance Agency. The bodies which established the Agency need urgently to review and amend its remit if it is to assume the role we propose for it. It needs the support of the whole sector in its tasks and it will need to embark very rapidly on its programme of work. New systems for the assurance of quality and standards must be in place and seen to be effective within a short space of time. If they are not, the Government will be justified in intervening to protect the interests of students.
24.12 The priorities in research are to begin to rectify the deficiencies of the infrastructure and to establish new arrangements which encourage strategic decisions by institutions to concentrate on their strengths. The Government will need to take immediate steps to secure private sector contributions for the rolling loan fund for infrastructure. The Funding Bodies need to set the rules for the next Research Assessment Exercise quickly so that institutions can begin now to plan their preparation for it.
Staff in higher education
24.13 Staff in higher education have achieved much in recent years and our Report expects that they will continue to be dedicated, professional and adaptable. They must be given appropriate support in this. Our recommendations for more systematic staff development and training, and especially for accreditation of teaching staff need to be pursued as a matter of urgency by individual institutions and by the sector collectively. The overall review of pay and conditions of service which we recommend should also be set up as soon as possible, in order to try to avoid a repetition of the unsatisfactory pay negotiations seen this year.
Higher educations local and regional role
24.14 We assume that the Government will be taking early steps to introduce new regional structures. As it does so, it needs to take account of our recommendation that higher education should be represented on the new structures and it must ensure that higher education can play its full part in economic regeneration.
24.15 We know, from all the contacts we have had in our work, that the value and importance of higher education is widely recognised. We also know that those within higher education are committed to its wellbeing and are willing to embrace change. If all that good will, energy and professionalism can be focused on the developments proposed in this report, we are convinced that UK higher education will match the best in the world over the next 20 years.