Mandelson to prioritise university science funding

Author: By Alison Kershaw, Press Association

Lord Mandelson is due to publish a new blueprint on the future of the UK’s
universities which will set out the priorities for the sector and comes
before a review of the student funding system is due to begin.

He is expected to say that universities will play a major role in helping the
country’s economic recovery in the future.

The framework will examine the issues facing universities at a time when
funding is becoming tighter. This is expected to include looking at “a
greater concentration of high level research, particularly in high-cost
science areas”.

And it is likely to set out how the Government will work with universities to
strengthen the economy.

The framework is also widely expected to say that students should be treated
like “consumers” and given more information about courses, including
information on contact hours and drop-out rates and future earnings.

Speaking at a CBI Higher Education summit in London two weeks ago, Lord
Mandelson said students should be “pickier” about their university choices,
saying they should be more demanding to boost quality in higher education.

At the same conference he warned that if students are expected to pay more for
higher education they are entitled to receive more from the system.

The comments fuelled speculation that the Government will consider raising the
£3,225 cap on tuition fees.

He said: “It’s a change in culture and attitude that we want to encourage.

“As students who go into higher education pay more, they will expect more and
are entitled to receive more in terms not just of the range of courses but
in the quality of experience they receive during their time in the higher
education system.”

He said Government and industry will need to be more demanding and to monitor
and scrutinise more on behalf of students.

At the same conference Lord Mandelson suggested that universities, courses or
even lecturers which fail to live up to students’ expectations will be
scrapped.

As well as focusing on offering students value for money, the new framework is
likely to outline ways of widening participation at universities and to call
for greater collaboration between universities and businesses.

University leaders have called for more funding and a report by
vice-chancellors’ umbrella group Universities UK published earlier this year
suggested fees could be raised to £5,000 without affecting student numbers.

But such a move to introduce higher fees is likely to be highly unpopular with
the public.

Lord Mandelson told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme that students should be
given details of how employable courses would make them, including the
earnings of alumni.

“It is very important that universities must give much fuller information
about the type and quality of teaching, how much direct contact with
teachers in the universities they will have,” the peer said.

“But also, for example, how much international experience they will have where
this is relevant to their course.”

He defended tuition fees as a “bold and successful” move by the Labour
Government, but confirmed that a review of the charges would take nine to 12
months – meaning it will not be complete before the General Election.

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