“The Coalition believes in a big, strong and effective higher education sector”

Speaking to the Universities UK Spring Conference David Willetts, Minister of State for Universities and Science, quoted above, made a few general points regarding his vision. He wants to give students ‘better value and greater choice’.

 He noted that ‘the growth of higher education in England between 1850 and 1950’ was based on local colleges which taught students for existing degrees at the University of London and elsewhere. This system meant that ‘students at new institutions could obtain degrees or other qualifications from prestigious and well understood institutions’. He went on

The external degrees of the University of London are now largely for foreign students. They should, once again, be widely available across Britain.

This was the model rejected by Jennie Lee when the design for the OU was being discussed.  While the current Minister may have considered Jennie Lee’s rationale and rejected it he does not refer to this route to his conclusions.

He argued that ‘We are committed to improving social mobility and we recognise that better access to higher education is one of the most effective ways to do that.’ However, his method was not to focus on learning. Instead he talks of putting ‘the quality of teaching where it should be – at the heart of the system’.

The government has distinctive ideas regarding the development of the HE sector. But will it draw on the most useful historical analogies and models and the best research? For a different view of this speech see Doug’s blog.

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