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Education Secretary delays HE White Paper

Oct 30 2002 18:13
Rob Park
New Education & Skills Secretary of State, Charles Clarke has delayed the long-awaited report into Higher Education funding to ?his own timescale?.
So where is George and Zippy?

Only a week after being appointed to replace Estelle Morris as Secretary of State for Education & Skills, Charles Clarke has announced the postponement of the Government?s review of funding for Higher Education in England. It is reported on the BBC News Website that officials from the Department say that Mr. Clarke wishes to put the review on ?his own timescale? and he commented that he wishes ?to engage fully in this key policy issue?.

After the resignation of Ms Morris last Thursday, speculation mounted as to whom would replace her as Secretary of State. Some students? representatives told Live! at the time that they did not expect the Minister of State for Higher Education & Life-long Learning (HELL), Margaret Hodge to be promoted. One senior student representative in London commented on the news of Ms Morris? resignation that ?at least she [Ms Morris] is a decent human being, unlike Hodge [?]?.

Mr Clarke, a former president of the National Union of Students (1975-77), is elected as Member of Parliament for Norwich South and before his recent appointment was Chairman of the Labour Party. A full biography is online . Before entering Parliament, Mr Clarke was an adviser to and research for Neil Kinnock, former Labour Leader (1983-1992).

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Discussion about “Education Secretary delays HE White Paper”

The comments below are unmoderated submissions by Live! readers. The Editor accepts no liability for their content, nor for any offence caused by them. Any complaints should be directed to the Editor.
1. dan   
Oct 30 2002 22:55

I,m first wahey. Is that good or sad??

So this guy also muttered something about reissuing grants before uncapping fees.

I wonder if I can claim back the three grand a year grant my mum got when she did her cultural studies degree at Thames Valley a few years ago...

Oct 31 2002 03:50

Ack! This kinda shifts the debate a lil. ....But helps to elucidate that an IC/UCL merger would be more a symptom of desperation, than represent a bold effort to create a research 'world beater'. OVERALL, it would lead to a loss of capacity and opportunities.

Imperial's science focus is its strength. That's what it's good at. It is argued that UCL's humanities would 'synergistically' benefit Imperial. Agree? What about the logistics? If you have humanities centred around the current UCL site, you're not likely to be getting much access to them anyway. We'd end up with a watered-down humanities section, with an unclear sense of purpose vis-a-vis the rest of the university +gradual marginalisation. Moving everything to Imperial, to 'make it all accessible to everyone' would effectively be the loss of UCL. Is that fair? And even if this happens, wouldn't you risk loosing your competitive edge as a strong, science-focussed institution? It wouldn't even amount to 'replicating' UCL on the Imperial site, as the science/humanities balance currently present at UCL would be compromised. Humanities would become optional supplements, rather than be at the forefront of their field, as is presently the case at UCL.

I can't see it being possible to have a spatial arrangement of departments that would be impartial to both universities. And whatever the arrangement, it would break up UCL's ethos: a balance and co-existence of sciences and humanities, which has provided a platform for strong multi-disciplinary research. This is UCL's strength -it would be dissolved.

In short, the sum would be lesser than the two seperate constituent parts.

We have to look beyond the salesbabble and ask ourselves at what price this merger is to actually take place. Let's think hard & act hard!

Oct 31 2002 11:25

I think the news spilling out of Imperial (wow did we do something political) has prompted quite a debate in the papers: "Middle class will be excluded from University". This combined with a forthcoming lecturer and teacher strike probably means that the Government wants to be sure that it gets its facts straight before it launches into this next battle.

Good to see that Imperial on its own achieved more news coverage than the NUS - I wonder if anyone in the press has noticed that we aren't members?

4. Tim   
Oct 31 2002 13:01

Having seen Paxman having a go at this BIG ear fellow and big Tony being grilled on Wed afternoon, I hope the government will not implement top-up fees until the next election.

Oct 31 2002 14:45

The government (as the Labour Party) promised at the 2001 June General Election that there would be no extra tuition fees imposed in the next Parliament. So if they do, they will have broken manifesto pledge.

6. DR   
Oct 31 2002 19:20

Tim - by suggesting that you don't want to see fees introduced before the next election makes me think that you think that you might be cobbered by them. On this score I don't think you will have anything to worry about. Whatever ends up happening it won't affect current students directly. You can compare it to when the ?1000 top-up fees were brought in, I was a first year undergrad but I didn't have to pay a penny as I had already entered the system on assumption that I would not have to pay.

Any changes brought in would only directly affect future students. This could of course affect us as we could be the parents of these future students. So whether you are selflessly campaigning against fees for the good of future students or even if you are looking after number 1 with the thought in mind that you will have to one day pay for your kid's education then the issue isn't really whether the change comes in this parliament but if it comes at all, and what the nature of this change will be.

Oct 31 2002 19:55

Of course, what they'll do is put it in their *next* manifesto...

8. DR   
Oct 31 2002 20:32

More news stories on top-up fees...

Estimates on top-up fees 'misleading':

Q&A:Top-up fees:

Nov 02 2002 17:05

IMPERIAL: FORGET ABOUT THE TOP-UP FEES ISSUE FOR NOW! This is now a protracted debate: essential, but no longer of immediate importance. FOCUS ON THE MERGER.

I see an unsettling absence of this discussion in your forum. Perhaps this is because a merger per se would conceivably benefit Imperial more than UCL. This does not mean that debate on that front should stop. ...Or is there an implicit concencus over there that the merger is simply inevitable?

I recommend the Evening Standard coverage on the IC/UCL merger, which you can access here.

10. Sam   
Nov 02 2002 19:42


I hate to tell you this, but we don't care about the Merger.

I doubt IC will come off terribly badly, and i would argue that both institutions have undergone mergers in the past (Mainly medical schools) While there have been initial teething troubles in these mergers, they have not had a huge impact on students in general.

Fees matters, Fees will impact the number and quality of students both at IC and UCL. It will affect our children, and our childrens' children - that's millions of people. The IC/UCL merger matters to less than a million - it's a small topic and short term problem compared to fees.

11. idris   
Nov 02 2002 20:12

George - You appear well informed and your opinions mostly well-founded and I don't want to discourage you from joining in the debate here, but Sam is right: the merger just isn't on the same scale of importance as fees. With the fees issue, we are peeping over the edge of a large cliff. To walk off would have massive implications for the education of future generations. In many ways this is a bigger watershed than the introduction of the ?1k fees in 1997 ever was. The very principle of an education system open to all is at stake.

12. idris   
Nov 02 2002 20:16

Lastly, in my opinion the coverage at [[the Evening Standard]|] is romantic waffle. One can object to the merger on all sorts of practical grounds (especially the merger of the already huge and unwieldy medical schools, which the author of the Evening Standard Online article perplexingly thinks is a good idea) but to object on the emotive basis that small institutes are better than large research agglomorations is petty and ill-founded.

Nov 02 2002 20:32

Also, unlike UCL, while we have had mergers, Imperial was itself founded through a 'mega-merger' of 3 former UL Colleges (the City & Guilds College, Royal School of Mines and Royal College Science). So another mega-merger is not as big a deal for Imperial.

Nov 02 2002 23:35

Yes, I agree that top-up fees are of enormous significance. I am not disputing this.

I would disagree with the idea that the ES article amounts simply to romantic waffle. That argument would apply more aptly to Syke's salesbabble of 'synergy', 'critical mass', etc... -a mere aestheticisation of corporate dynamics.

Against the backdrop of reasoned arguments, it is easier to dismiss the case for 'big is beautiful' as teleological redundancy.

Your comments on the merger are revealing; they seem to uncover quite different attitudes vis-a-vis the merger at IC & UCL. This is to be expected.

I recognise that you occupy a different point of reference at Imperial. Whatever its form, a merger could be seen as 'adding' to your college.

Also, as students, there is no strong preoccupation with whether or not say, humanities become marginalised in the future and their standard falls -why should we concern ourselves with this? So what if there's a reduction in overall potential and capacity, and universities become drug companies? It won't affect us (I ask myself the same questions at times). What's more: at Imperial, humanities would be a novelty, and their mere addition could be seen as a positive development, regardless of whether they are at the forefront of their field; staff cuts are unlikely to happen on your turf, as it is UCL that is in financial difficulty and could be seen to have 'excess staff'.

Just to keep you posted, the debate at UCL is now focussing on 'Save UCL'. Top-up fees now not an immediate threat, there is a realisation that a merger would effectively see the dismantling of UCL; people here are viewing this as a takeover and not a merger.

Intriguingly, the result is that, while we attack Syke's thesis of 'big is beautiful' on the grounds that it lacks substance; you dismiss this as reactionary, or a romantic rendering of a 'small is beautiful' agenda. The latter view is misguided. But I understand how it could be seen as an attractive rationalisation, from your point of view.

Nov 02 2002 23:37

'Small is beautiful' is not the logic that is being upheld here. We are simply elucidating the fact that the key motivation for this merger is financial expediency, and has nothing to do with creating a 'world beating' university (which is just a sales gimmick). It is simply not the right formula for achieving that. If it was, Harvard & MIT would have 'merged' a long while ago...

Here we have two businessmen, who are crudely and irresponsibly treating universities like companies. But worse, they are stuck in the anachronistic and dangerous tradition of merging for its own sake. Bearing in mind that most mergers, even in the corporate sector, are unsuccessful in solving the problems they are designed to solve, this is hardly the 'way forward'.

Nov 02 2002 23:48

The preferred outcome here is simply for admin & management to regain efficiency (as has been the case in previous years). A merger is a crackpot solution to a problem that could be solved in a variety of much more pragmatic ways.

Something that could well help this along, is indeed a financial reallocation from 'Beckham Studies' courses. It seems incredible that these superfluous subjects (at least in relation to society at large), which can really only be seen to benefit individual interest, should be subsidised to the tune of serious study -thus holding the best institutions to ransom and forcing them to 'rationalise' and shed capacity...

This is where there needs to be reform. I suggest that these courses should be reclassified as some kind of 'special interest' diploma; providing a widely accepted qualification, but not subsidised by the state. Of course, drawing the line is difficult. But it is workable. The fees need not be as high as for university degrees, and the funding shortfall would be filled without recourse to top-ups, graduate tax, etc. This need not entail a return to polytechnics, or even a two-tier system. These 'special interest' courses could co-exist with degree programmes in universities, allowing those who choose to pursue them good levels of recognition. They could even be seen as advantageous, as they may display originality and unconventional perspectives -making it quite attractive to some employers. But you would have to fund yourself (whether upfront, through a loan, or through sponsorship). In fact, the very fact that it would be self-funding would demonstrate a strong level of motivation and commitment.

This is a serious alternative to top-ups, graduate tax, etc (which, in the long run, would just see the job market swamped with depreciated graduates and confusion; and would increasingly mean that 'proper' graduates would have to take up expensive postgraduate study, in order to differentiate themselves).

I appeal to you to support opposition to the merger (a desperate, badly thought out measure), in favour of this alternative solution to the shortfall in higher education funding.

Nov 03 2002 14:05

Maybe I'm missing some vital details here, but how can the removal of state subsidy from what is a very small minority of courses possibly be a serious alternative? OK, the government will save a little bit of cash, but hardly enough to cover the funding gap.

Nov 03 2002 14:26

Moving onto the merger (which is a seperate issue), I'm not quite sure why UCL is so concerned about humanities courses being marginalised, just because IC doesn't do any at the moment. IC didn't do any medical courses up until a lot of mergers a few years ago, but I don't here a lot of medical students arguing that they've been marginalised - well, no more than any other students.

And why would a merger lead to a 'reduction in overall potential and capacity'? Certainly, there would be cutbacks on the bureaucracy side, but not many people would argue against that. Academically, the new institution would have to almost start from scratch to prove itself on the world stage, which could only lead to higher standards, not lower ones.

George is almost certainly right about the merger all being about financial expedience, but the creation of this 'world-beater' is part of this, not just a gimmick. The whole point of this is to create a unique selling point which would attract huge amounts of research income, not just so Dickie Sykes can measure how big his university is. This is why Havard and MIT haven't announced plans to merge to form a 'world-beater' - they already are world-beaters, so what would be the point? (Or maybe they just haven't thought of it yet ...)

How can a debate focus on 'Save UCL'? Surely if the arguments are all on one side, it isn't much of a debate.

19. Seb   
Nov 03 2002 19:27


"We are simply elucidating the fact that the key motivation for this merger is financial expediency,"

Um, I don't think it is. He's made an unequivocable pledge to no redundancies. What's more, the Physics department (at least) has been consulting it's students on the merger, and it seems it really would be attempting to build a super university, not an asset striping operation.

"If it was, Harvard & MIT would have 'merged' a long while ago..."

MIT is a niche university, it would not want to merge with Harvard. Harvard is a super university in it's own right, and does not need to merge.

Frankly, I would oppose the merger from IC's point of view simply because it completely destroys our reputation as the UK's premier science+engineering university.

As to top up fees being a distant threat, you are very much mistaken. The decisions are being made now. If we do not get input at this stage then while the actual policy will be implemented three years from now, we will not be able to affect it.

The accademics will scotch the merger, the duty of opposing tuition fees falls soley on the student body.

20. idris   
Nov 04 2002 12:37

We can carry on this discussion at ULU council - tonight (Monday) 6:30 at Malet St.

Nov 04 2002 13:02

Oh joy...

Nov 05 2002 00:17

Rob Park in "another brilliant prediction" shocker.

I shall refrain from comment on ULU Council until I've slept.

At least twice.


Nov 05 2002 11:30

Closed This discussion is closed.

Please contact the Live! Editor if you would like this discussion topic re-opened.


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