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Universities set for major change

The proposals are laid out in a series of papers, which were ordered by the Universities Secretary John Denham, to inform the government on the future of the higher education section in preparation for the review of tuition fees due out next year. The proposals also include recommendations on how universities could provide more support for part-time students, improve the flexibility of academic staff contracts, and publish more details about the benefits they offer to students.

A study on part-time study by Christine King, vice-chancellor of Staffordshire University, suggested that the distinction between full-time and part-time study was becoming blurred as “the traditional university systems, timetables and calendars are constructed with little reference to the world of employment.” Professor King also argued for students to receive “credit” for every module they completed, and the opportunity to use those if they dropped out or return to high education later on.

Professor Paul Ramsden, former vice-chancellor of Sydney University, in his paper promoted a reform of the degree honours classification system as he pointed out that the current system of first, second and third class degrees was no longer “fit for purpose” and should be replaced with a detailed report card. He also suggested that students be asked to pay fees by module for each year of study, which meant that some students are likely to pay even more tuition fee for their degree than the current fee of around £3,000. However, this comment was likely to add to calls from universities for the cap on tuition fees to be abolished as some institutions claim the current cap does not cover the cost of more expensive courses.

Reacting to the review, The University and College Union (UCU) criticised the government for having failed to invite a “genuine critique of policy”. They said: “If the government wants its higher education debate to have any credibility it must take on board the views of practitioners.”

Mr Denham declined to comment on how many of the recommendations would be taken on board, but he expressed his desire to “hear more voices and opinions”, so that he may publish a comprehensive review on the future of higher education and tuition fee next year.

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