Leading Article: Degrees of difference

You may not have known it, but the Government has been having a debate on the future of higher education for the past year. Last week's plea by the Universities Secretary, John Denham, for universities to offer more vocational degrees was part of his contribution to summing up what has been going on.

It makes sense, particularly as we slide deeper into recession. It will not only be the "new" universities that put on such courses. There will be some "old" universities that will want to do so as well, so we are not returning to an era of the polytechnic divide, as some observers have maintained. At the same time, the Russell Group and 1994 Group of universities will heave a sigh of relief that the minister favours keeping research concentrated in the academically elite institutions in spite of the results of the 2009 Research Assessment Exercise, which showed a broad range of universities doing better.

The real challenge to universities will be to organise a credit accumulation and transfer system to make the system much more flexible, and to enable students to take credits at different institutions and come out with a degree at the end of it. Other countries have been doing this for a long time, so what is stopping the United Kingdom?