Letter: Dearing's figures

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Sir: Although the National Committee of Inquiry into Higher Education is no more, I would like to offer a personal response to your report "How Dearing's numbers fail to add up" (26 September).

Naturally, I am disappointed that figures from one of the researchers we commissioned included some errors. The key observation remains unchanged: that around 90 per cent of part-time students are in employment. (We were well aware from other sources that a much lower proportion of Open University students are employed.) The committee concluded that there were good reasons why those in employment should not be seen as the highest priority for additional public subsidies. There are other even more pressing needs in higher education. Such subsidies would risk substituting for existing employer contributions. And remember that part-time programmes are already heavily subsidised through grants to universities and colleges.

The committee was nevertheless concerned that would-be part-time students who are unemployed should not be denied higher education. We therefore proposed that they should have their fees waived and I welcome the Government's recent announcement that this will happen. We also recommended that social security benefits should be looked at again to aid participation by those who are unemployed.

You wrongly assert that the committee concluded that employers should not be expected to contribute more to the costs of part-time higher education. We specified areas where employers should contribute more - especially towards the growth of programmes of continuing professional development for their employees. We identified Individual Learning Accounts as a potentially useful way of harnessing employer contributions for this and other purposes. This is an idea which has to be pursued in the context of broader education and training policies and not just for higher education.

Sir RON DEARING

Chairman

The National Committee of Inquiry

into Higher Education

London W11

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