Coalition review focuses on universities' economic role

The coalition government has praised universities as "the driving force behind our increasingly high-tech, knowledge-based economy" in its mid-term review.

Universities and further education were given a page and a half in the 46-page review, published today after being launched by Prime Minister David Cameron and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg.

The document, titled The Coalition: together in the national interest, offers little in the way of fresh policy directions for higher education. The two innovations it identifies as future priorities - the uncapping of recruitment for high-grade students and Key Information Sets - are already well underway.

However, universities are likely to be pleased that the review assigns them a central role in the economy, echoing recent comments by George Osborne, the chancellor.

"For years, Britain has undervalued both the academic and technical skills a modern economy needs," the review document says. "This government is determined to rectify both defects."

It continues: "We are willing to take the tough decisions needed to ensure that our universities thrive. We value them for their intrinsic, as well as their economic, worth: as seats of learning and research dedicated to increasing the sum of human knowledge and understanding, and as centres of innovation and invention, the driving force behind our increasingly high-tech, knowledge-based economy."

The review also recaps funding and student finance changes. "We have put universities on a secure and sustainable financial footing by increasing the maximum tuition fee to £9,000, and backed this with income-contingent loans so that no first-time students need to contribute to their tuition costs upfront," it says.

In a section on the future, the review says: "We will give our world class universities more freedom to compete by giving them more control over the number of highly qualified students they can admit, and we will require the publication of key outcome information - such as destinations, wage levels and student satisfaction - to guide applicants' university choices."

And on research, it says: "We will invest an additional £920 million in UK science research infrastructure, as set out in the Autumn Statement."

Mr Cameron and Mr Clegg say in their foreword to the review: "Whether it is reducing the deficit, rebalancing the economy, regulating the banks, tackling climate change, modernising our energy and transport infrastructure, putting our universities on a sustainable financial footing or dealing with the challenges of an ageing population and reforming public sector pensions, we have consistently chosen to do what is right over what is easy or popular; what is in our country's long-term interest over our parties' short-term interest."

john.morgan@tsleducation.com

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