Education & Skills Committee: The future sustainability of the higher education sector

01 December 2006

In December 2006 the Royal Society submitted evidence to the House of Commons Education and Skills Select Committee inquiry into the future sustainability of the higher education sector. Our submission drew on our 2006 report A degree of concern? UK first degrees in science, technology and mathematics and emphasised the following key points:

  • Any discussion about the role of higher education (HE) needs to take into account the varied nature of HE provision and the wide diversity of qualifications, students and learning modes encompassed by HE learning. This diversity is good: it shows a healthy sector in which institutions are able to 'play to their strengths' and offer a wide range of students the learning opportunities that are appropriate for them.
  • The prime responsibilities of a university are to teach, to maintain and develop the corpus of knowledge and to transfer this knowledge, both through teaching students and through other activities such as interaction with business. While there are changes to the ways in which universities deliver these aims, for example their developing role in transferring knowledge to business, we believe that this broad role is constant.
  • Universities are dependent on the funding that they receive for both research and for teaching. It is important that the funding regime adequately funds both functions and does not inadvertently provide incentives to concentrate on one activity over the other. It is also important to recognise that there are interdependencies between teaching and research, such as the need for scholarship.
  • We believe that the UK should be exploring more broadly whether our current HE system is delivering what students, employers, the economy and wider society need from its graduates and how this will change over the next decade. The Society's Science HE 2015 and beyond study is considering these wider issues and how the structure, content and purpose of the different stages of our current HE system may need to evolve in the future. The Bologna Process has the potential to act as one driver for such change.