Reporter 403, 2 June 1997

Speculation grows over funding plans

The basis for a nationwide higher education credit system will be in place by the time Sir Ron Dearing’s committee reports in July, according to a report in the Times Higher Education Supplement. A common educational currency would enable students to move freely between courses and accumulate credit for what they have achieved. Credit systems currently exist, but there is no coherent national system.

The Guardian reports the committee is expected to announce a student voucher plan which would revolutionise the funding of universities and colleges. Under the system students would be given individual learning accounts with tax breaks, similar to TESSAs. Students would draw from the account to pay for maintenance and repayments would be made through higher National Insurance contributions. Ministers would be able to vary the proportion of tuition fees paid by the state.

Most vice-chancellors believe contributions from all students will be needed to stop the funding gap rising to £3billion in the year 2000.

A survey by the Guardian of more than 40 HE institutions indicates upheaval as senior managers feel the effects of tough public spending limits, the concentration of research funding on fewer institutions and Sir Ron Dearing’s recommendations on restructuring the whole higher education system. The survey reports universities are preparing for severe job cuts. Some institutions also cite the recent national pay deal as squeezing jobs.

It is feared by many that Labour’s promises to schools could mean a further shift of funds. The Higher Education Funding Council for England insists only half a dozen universities are on the “worry list.” Most headlines so far have concentrated on the closure or scaling down of courses, but it seems more drastic measures are on the agenda.

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