The interests of students must be paramount in the new funding arrangements for higher education, according to Sir Alan Langlands, Chief Executive of HEFCE.
Sir Alan told vice-chancellors at HEFCE's annual conference today (21 October) that the introduction of higher tuition fees would place much more of the burden of funding higher education on graduates and their families.
Speaking at the Royal College of Physicians, Sir Alan said the reform of higher education funding and student finance that will follow the recently published Browne review should not lead anyone to think that students were only valued for what universities could get out of them, or what they might earn in the future.
According to Sir Alan:
'There is more to higher education than that. It must be fair and accessible, with no compromises on the quality of learning and teaching and no surprises in relation to the financial sustainability of universities and colleges.'
Sir Alan said that higher education is a success story, vital to the economic, social and cultural development of the country:
'The current preoccupation with money is understandable, but we must quickly sharpen our focus on what really matters – excellence, diversity, international competiveness and longer-term sustainability.'
He said the reductions in public funding were a consequence of the banking crisis and high public debt.
'It is worth remembering that when the banks were being bailed out to the tune of £117 billion, higher education was generating £59 billion each year for the economy and acted swiftly to support business through the recession, helping 50,000 people and nearly 12,000 businesses. As the economy improves the question of public funding for higher education must be revisited. In the meantime we will continue to support the Government’s growth strategy,' he said.
Sir Alan said that HEFCE would work with the Government and universities to ensure an orderly transition to the new arrangements, once these have been put in place. This would include advising on legislative change; leading the implementation of the new funding settlement; and working with partners to establish regulatory arrangements which are transparent, fair and proportionate and which protect educational standards, the wider interests of students, and the proper use of taxpayers' money.
'We must ensure that we are not diverted from the key priorities of excellence in teaching and research, widening access, and achieving academic and financial sustainability. We also need to make the best use of the next 12 to 18 months to ensure as much financial stability as possible during the transition period before the new funding arrangements are introduced in 2012.'