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Patten to abolish students' closed shop

JOHN PATTEN, the Secretary of State for Education, has drawn up detailed proposals to abolish the students' union 'closed shop' in universities after clearing the parliamentary hurdles in the way of legislation.

Mr Patten is expected to announce at the Tory party conference in Brighton this week that he is ready to introduce legislation which will make membership of the campus unions voluntary.

Successive Tory education secretaries have declared their intention to end the closed shop but legislation has equally consistently always been squeezed out of the parliamentary timetable.

One difficulty has been advice that any measure on the issue would have to be a 'hybrid' Bill - notoriously wasteful of parliamentary time.

After consultation with Commons authorities, Mr Patten has now established that a Bill is possible without being a hybrid. It is likely to be introduced in the 1993-4 session.

Tories have long resented the 1.5m-strong National Union of Students' anti-government campaigns on the poll tax, student loans and benefits.

The measure will herald a big transfer of funds and responsibilities for welfare services from the union to the universities themselves.

Ministers believe that the present leadership of the National Students' Union is reconciled to the changes in the law. Earlier this year, Sheffield Students' Union recommended that students be able to opt out of membership.

In his first party conference since taking over at Education, Mr Patten will pledge his determination to see 'rigour' in teaching. But he will also make clear that he accepts that teachers and parents do not want a welter of new legislation and reorganisation after the sweeping changes of the last few years.

Meanwhile he is expected to announce soon that he will set up a body to monitor the performance of GCSE examination boards. The boards have rebutted criticisms made in a preliminary inspectors' report that they had 'limited confidence' in their ability to maintain standards.

He is also considering ways of stimulating the formation of new exam boards which will specifically base their appeal to schools on their high standards.