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Open University

Volume 470: debated on Thursday 10 January 2008

10. If he will make a statement on his Department’s proposals for funding for the Open university in 2008-09. (177257)

Funding for individual universities is for the Higher Education Funding Council to determine on the basis of the grant letter that we expect to issue in the near future. We have already announced that for higher education as a whole, there will be a funding increase of 2.5 per cent. in real terms in each of the next three years. The Government’s priorities, including employer engagement, widening participation and more opportunities for mature learners who have so far missed out on higher education, will create excellent opportunities for the Open university over the coming years.

Notwithstanding his answer, the Secretary of State knows that his proposals for equivalent or lower qualifications will deprive the Open university of a stream of funding. I have read the report of the debate on this subject, but could he enlighten me as to where I can find the body of evidence that justifies the changes that he has proposed and that shows new students are being deprived by the current arrangements? When will there be proper consultation on a proposal that appears to have been introduced without any discussion with colleges such as Birkbeck, or with the Open university?

The evidence can be found in the Leitch report, which clearly described the need to increase the number of graduates in the work force by 2020. That means that people who would not otherwise have the chance to go to university can do so. The evidence is based on international comparisons—comparisons with what our major competitors are doing—and tells us where we need to be in terms of the skills of our work force in order to be able to compete internationally. Certainly there is evidence of the potential for that, as was mentioned earlier in respect of the number of people who are already qualified to level 3—those who have reached the normal level for entry to university, but have not had the chance to go there. The challenge—and I do not shy away from it—is to encourage higher education institutions to reach out to that group of students, and I believe that they will succeed in doing that.