Education and Skills Committee

New Inquiries into Higher Education

The Education and Skills Committee has agreed to undertake two inquiries into higher education issues. The main inquiry will look at the future sustainability of the higher education sector. This broad-ranging inquiry will follow on from an initial, shorter inquiry to focus on the Bologna Process and its impact on UK higher education. Written submissions are invited for both inquiries. The Committee will begin taking oral evidence in the New Year.

The future sustainability of the higher education sector: purpose, funding and structures

Higher education institutions (HEIs) are semi-autonomous institutions which largely define their own purpose or purposes. Nevertheless, it is appropriate for a government spending over £7.5 billion on HE to clearly identify what it wants from universities in return for this level of public investment.

In moving further towards a high-skill economy, an increasingly international HE sector, an era of mass-participation in HE, and a possible future market in fees after 2009, this inquiry will investigate questions of first principles in HE: what is the role of universities, what should the principles of funding be, and what should the structure of the HE sector look like or be shaped by?

The terms of reference for the inquiry are as follows:

The role of universities over the next 5-10 years
€ What do students want from universities?
- what should the student experience involve, including for international students?
€ What do employers want from graduates?
- skills base, applied research, links with industry?
€ What should the government, and society more broadly, want from HE?
- a stable, internationally competitive, HE sector?
- internationally-competitive research capacity?
- graduates appropriate for a high-skill economy?
- widening participation, contribution to social mobility?
- a much greater level of engagement with schools?
- engagement in society and democratic debate, and producing active citizens?

University funding
€ Is the current funding system fit for purpose? Is the purpose clear?
€ What are the principles on which university funding should be based?
€ Should the £3,000 cap on student fees be lifted after 2009 and what might be the consequences for universities and for students, including part-time students?
€ What should the Government be funding in HE and by what means?
€ Should central funding be used as a lever to achieve government policy aims? Is the balance between core or block-funding and policy-directed funding correct at present?
€ Should research funding be based on selection of 'quality'? How should quality be defined and assessed? How might this drive behaviour across the sector?
€ How can leading research universities reach internationally competitive levels of funding? Should limited central-Government funding be directed elsewhere?
€ How well do universities manage their finances, and what improvements, if any, need to be made?
€ Are some parts of the sector too reliant on income from overseas students?

The structure of the HE sector
€ Is the current structure of the HE sector appropriate and sustainable for the future?
€ How well do structures and funding arrangements fit with 'diversity of mission'?
€ Is the current structure and funding affecting growth of HE in FE and part-time study?
€ How important are HE in FE and flexible learning to the future of HE? Would this part of the sector grow faster under different structure and funding arrangements?
€ Can, and should, the government be attempting to shape the structure of the sector?
€ Is the government's role one of planning, steering, or allowing the market to operate?
€ Should there be areas of government planning within HE - e.g. for strategic subjects?
€ What levers are available to the government and how effective are they?
€ Is there a clear goal for the future shape of the sector? Should there be one?
€ Is there a clear intention behind the balance of post-graduate and under-graduate international students being sought? Is this an area where the market should be managed? Can it be managed?

The Bologna Process

The Bologna Process is an intergovernmental initiative which aims to create a European Higher Education Area (EHEA) by 2010 and to promote the European system of higher education worldwide. It now has 45 signatory countries and it is conducted outside the formal decision-making framework of the European Union. It was launched in 1999 when Ministers from 29 European countries, including the UK, met in Bologna and signed a declaration establishing what was necessary to create a EHEA by 2010. The broad objectives of the Bologna Process are:

€ to establish a common structure of higher education systems across Europe
€ for this common structure to be based on two main cycles, undergraduate and graduate
€ to remove the obstacles to student mobility across Europe
€ to enhance the attractiveness of European higher education worldwide

The next bi-annual meeting of Ministers from signatory countries will be held in London in 2007 to discuss progress and future programmes of work.

The terms of reference for the inquiry are as follows:

€Implications of the Bologna process for the UK Higher Education sector: advantages and disadvantages
€The agenda for discussion at the 2007 meeting in London - clarifying the UK position
€The implications of a three-phase structure of higher education awards for to one-year Masters and short undergraduate courses (HNCs, HNDs, and Foundation Degrees)
€Awareness and engagement in the Bologna process within HEIs
€Opportunities to enhance the mobility of students from the UK
€The possible implementation of a European Credit Transfer System (ECTS) and a focus on learning outcomes and competencies
€Quality Assurance systems in HE (teaching and research): the compatibility of UK proposals and Bologna
€Degree classification reform in light of Bologna
€The broader impact of Bologna across Europe: a more standardised Europe and the consequences for the UK's position in the global market for HE (Bologna and the second phase of the Prime Ministers Initiative for International Education (PMI 2)).

Submissions should arrive no later than noon on Monday 18th December for both inquiries. A guide for written submissions to the Committee may be found on the parliamentary website at:
A copy of the submission should be sent by e-mail to with an additional paper copy to:

Education and Skills Select Committee
House of Commons
7 Millbank
London SW1P 3JA

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