10 September 2004
Colleges should be allowed to take on a bigger role in delivering higher education, according to the latest report from an influential centre-Left think-tank.
In Diverse missions: achieving excellence and equity in post-16 education, the Institute for Public Policy Research urges the government to follow the example of Scotland and revise the legal definitions of higher and further education.
Earlier this year, the Scottish Executive proposed bringing together the definitions of further and higher education and merging the respective funding councils.
The IPPR's report argues that ministers need to accept that not all universities can carry out the same high levels of research and some should be permitted to confine themselves to teaching.
However, the institute wants all higher education institutions to be given access to the same funding streams. It also wants greater flexibility in the system that allows staff at teaching-only institutions to carry out research at regional centres.
IPPR associate director Peter Robinson said: 'Much higher education is already taught in further education colleges and this proportion is set to rise with the government's promotion of the foundation degree, which will primarily be provided in FE colleges.
'The research assessment exercise is flawed, costly and no longer needed. It should be replaced by a funding system which channels funds through the research councils.'
Mechanisms to encourage collaboration between institutions should also be developed, the IPPR report says. The government should consider abandoning league tables, which prohibit joint working, or making collaboration a condition of the freedom to vary tuition fees.