HC Deb 04 July 1995 vol 263 cc165-6W
Mr. Peter Ainsworth

To ask the Secretary of State for Education what responses have been received to the consultation on the purpose and future shape and size of higher education; and if she will make a statement. [32194]

Mrs. Gillian Shephard

I am replying with the agreement of my right hon. Friends with responsibility for education in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Altogether, there have been nearly 100 responses to this consultation. I am grateful to all those who took the trouble to send us their views. I am arranging for copies to be placed in the Library.

The responses indicate that, while the objectives identified in the 1963 Robbins report remain broadly valid, there is now more emphasis on higher education's role in underpinning a modern, competitive economy. Both initial and continuing higher education are seen as increasingly important for equipping the work force for higher-skilled work, for coping with change, for handling the rapid proliferation of knowledge, for meeting the challenges of scientific and technical advance and for competing on a global stage.

A number of steps are already being taken which will bear on the responsiveness of higher education to the needs of employers and the economy as a whole. First, the National Council for Vocational Qualifications is consulting in England, Wales and Northern Ireland about the introduction of higher level general vocational qualifications, GNVQs, to complement those at levels 1–3 being developed for schools and colleges. Secondly, the Government have announced a new target for 30 per cent. of the work force to have a vocational, professional, management or academic qualification at NVQ level 4 and above. There are separate comparable targets for Scotland launched last year by the Advisory Scottish Council for Education and Training Targets. Thirdly, the Government have announced that they will consult later in the year about lifelong learning at all levels. Fourthly, the Higher Education Funding Council for England is undertaking a review of postgraduate education, including one-year vocational postgraduate taught courses, for a report in the spring of next year.

The Government will take into account the responses received and the various steps already being taken in developing their higher education policies, and intend to issue a consultative paper. It will cover recent achievements in higher education, the Government's view on the aims and purposes of higher education, an analysis of the demand for higher education as well as for graduates in the economy and the scope for enhancing higher education's response to employment needs, and it will seek views on the future size, shape, and resourcing of higher education. We intend to issue the paper towards the end of this year.