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Higher Education: North West

Volume 483: debated on Tuesday 18 November 2008

To ask the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills what recent meetings his officials have had with organisations from the north west to discuss widening access to higher education in the region. (235947)

Ministers and officials speak to many institutions and organisations about issues that affect individuals' progression to higher education. Widening access to higher education is a Government priority. Our policy initiatives are taken forward by our stakeholders who work closely with organisations at local level.

There are five Aimhigher Area Partnerships in the north west which engage with a wide range of schools, colleges and higher education institutions in the region. The Aimhigher programme's primary purpose is to widen participation in higher education.

Furthermore, the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) and the North West Universities Association (NWUA) are both members of the Regional Skills and Employment Board. The Board membership also includes the Learning and Skills Council (LSC), the North West Development Agency (NWDA), the Alliance of Sector Skills Councils and Government Office North West etc. The Board last met at the start of October to discuss key regional priorities/challenges. The need to upskill very significant numbers of those already in work to Level 4+ was one of the issues discussed.

The LSC also sits on the Steering Group for the NWUA-led Higher Level Skills Pathfinder which meets monthly. The Pathfinder (funded by HEFCE/NWDA) seeks to increase the capacity of HEIs to deliver higher-level skills in the workplace.

HEFCE has recently received a report from Action on Access (the national co-ordination team for widening participation in higher education) providing an analysis by region of applications and entry to HE from all areas across the country using the Index of Multiple Deprivation as a measure. That report shows that between 2002-03 and 2006-07 the total number of entrants to higher education has increased by 8.9 per cent. in the north west. This growth largely comes from the 20 per cent. most deprived groups with participation from the most deprived neighbourhoods increased by 28.3 per cent.

To ask the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills (1) what discussions he has had with the Learning and Skills Council on its working relationship with the Higher Education Funding Council for England in the North West; (236358)

(2) what recent discussions he has had with the Learning and Skills Council on its regional higher education strategies, with particular reference to the North West region.

Ministers from the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (DIUS) hold regular meetings with the Learning and Skills Council (LSC) to discuss a wide range of issues. Although there have been no recent discussions with Ministers relating to higher education in the north-west, Mark Haysom, the chief executive of the LSC, holds regular meetings with his regional directors to review progress on regional skills priorities, including on the regional contribution of the LSC to higher education skills. There are also regular formal meetings between the LSC and HEFCE chief executives and chairmen.

The forthcoming Grant Letter to the LSC will underline the continuing importance of close engagement between the LSC and HEFCE to ensure that more people can progress into higher education and to provide the higher level skills that employers need to remain competitive.

To ask the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills what arrangements the Higher Education Funding Council for England has for working with further education colleges that operate in conjunction with higher education providers in the North West region. (236374)

The Council works effectively with all institutions which help learners to acquire higher level skills. Progression from further to higher education is important in enabling learners to realise their full potential. HEFCE officers meet with senior staff from both further education colleges which provide higher education and higher education institutions in the North West in the normal course of HEFCE business. The Council’s policies and practices are designed to facilitate close collaboration between different providers in the interests of learners and those seeking higher skills.