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Graduation day: their successors may have to pay

The Dearing Report

Funding for Higher Education
The Future

Higher Education in the Learning Society is in fact a collection of reports. The main one is more than 460 pages long. In addition there is the separate report of the Scottish Committee, 14 reports from the various working groups and 5 appendices (one with specific recommendations for Northern Ireland). This brief provides a short summary of some of the inquiry's key recommendations in its main report.

The Inquiry makes a total of 93 recommendations, 49 of which are addressed to the Government. Funding bodies, student unions, employers and research councils are other bodies to whom recommendations are addressed.

Funding for Higher Education

In an introduction to the report, Sir Ron Dearing singles out the issue of funding: "We express here our concern that the long term well-being of higher education should not be damaged by the needs of the short term. We are particularly concerned about planned further reductions in the unit of funding for higher education... We believe that this would damage both the quality and effectiveness of higher education.... We therefore recommend that students enter into an obligation to make contributions to the cost of their education once they are in work."

The Inquiry estimates that an additional 350 million in funding is required in 1998-99 and a further 565 million in 1999-2000. In 20 years' time additional funding of almost 2 billion is thought by the Committee to be required to pay for an expansion in student numbers, provide more support for part-time students, ensure an adequate infrastructure for higher education, provide proper funding for research, improve maintenance support for students and increase higher education pay in line with average earnings. The Inquiry recommends that public spending on higher education should increase with the growth in the Gross Domestic Product.

The Inquiry recommends to Government that it shifts the balance of funding away from block grants towards a system of funding which follows the student, with a target of distributing at least 60 per cent of total public funding to institutions according to student choice by 2003.

After examining different options for the funding of student tuition and maintenance costs, the Inquiry sets out various options. The Inquiry favours a combination of student tuition fees (on a loan basis) and the continuation of means-tested maintenance grants and student loans as the best way to seek contributions from higher income families and graduates in work.

It recommends that the Government introduces arrangements for graduates in work to make a flat rate contribution of around 25 per cent of the average cost of higher education tuition, through an income-based mechanism. The Inquiry recommends that such a mechanism should be established by Government by 1998/99. The tuition costs for students would be proportional to the number of years of study, although the Inquiry conceded that Government bursary or scholarship arrangements may be needed for longer courses. A discount for upfront payment or a modest rate of interest is recommended for those who can afford to make a contribution at the time of study. The Inquiry recommends that the Inland Revenue should be used as the principal route for the collection of contributions from students, on behalf of the Student Loans Company.

The Inquiry would like to see an assurance that the proportion of tuition costs to be paid cannot be increased without an independent review and an affirmative resolution of both Houses of Parliament, and that the money raised should go back into higher education.

In terms of low-paid students, the Inquiry recommends that from 1998/99 institutions should be able to waive tuition fees for part-time students in receipt of jobseekers' allowance or certain family benefits, that the Government includes in its review of the social security system the interaction between part-time benefits and part-time study and that eligibility for Access Fund payments to part-time students be extended from 1998/99.

The Inquiry also proposes the setting up of a Student Support Agency to bring together all the various bodies providing financial support for students.


The Inquiry recommends that the Government should allow for the expansion of higher education by lifting the cap on full-time sub-degree places immediately and should lift the cap on full-time undergraduate places over the next two to three years. No particular target is set - the Inquiry sees student and employer demand as the main determinant of the level of participation in higher education.

The expansion of sub-degree provision is proposed as a priority in further education colleges but the Inquiry recommends that there should be no growth in degree level qualifications offered by further education colleges.

In order to address the underrepresentation of certain groups, the Inquiry recommends a range of measures including giving priority in the allocation of funds to those institutions who are committed to widening participation and have a strategy to do so and pilot projects to allocate funds to institutions who enrol students from particularly disadvantaged areas.


The Inquiry recommends the setting up of a professional Institute for Learning and Teaching in Higher Education which would accredit professionals in teaching, commission research into learning and advise institutions on using IT for learning and teaching.

The Inquiry recommends that all new full-time academic staff with teaching responsibilities are required to achieve at least associate membership of the Institute for Learning and Teaching in Higher Education for the successful completion of probation.

It is proposed that the teacher training responsibilities of the Higher Education Funding Council for England and the Teacher Training Agency are reviewed in drawing up proposals for a General Teaching Council.

On staff pay and conditions, the Inquiry recommends that an independent review committee report by April 1998 on the framework for determining pay and conditions of service of staff in higher education.


The Inquiry proposes a broad framework of qualifications which it believes will be well understood within and outside the sector and incorporates provision for the accumulation of credits which could be transferred from one institution to another. It recommends limits on the franchising of courses by institutions and the establishment of criteria for franchising arrangements.

The Inquiry recommends that institutions develop a programme specification for each course they offer to outline the intended outcomes of the course and stopping-off points.

In addition the Inquiry supports a change to the remit of the Quality Assurance Agency so that it is responsible for quality assurance and public information, standards verification, maintenance of the qualifications framework, and arrangements for institutions to adopt a code of practice by 2001/02.

The Future

Dearing urges further funding to be urgently found for research to put right past under-investment. The Inquiry proposes allowing institutions to opt out of the Research Assessment Exercise in order to seek a lower level of non-competitive funding to support research and scholarship which underpins teaching and the establishment of a 400-500million fund to support a limited number of top quality research departments.

The Inquiry proposes that by 2000/1 all students should have open access to a networked desktop computer and by 2005/06 access to their own portable computer.

The Inquiry recommends that higher education institution governing bodies should review their own effectiveness and performance at least every five years.

The Inquiry recommends that in five years' time and then every ten years, the Government constitutes a UK-wide Dearing-style inquiry to assess the state of higher education, advise on its financing and further development and any changes in the level of student support or contributions from graduates in employment.

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