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Wednesday, 30 January, 2002, 18:23 GMT
Blair's university targets spelt out
Students will not necessarily be at university
Targets for widening participation in higher education will not only include students at university.

The government has moved to clarify its promise that by the end of the decade half or more of young people would be entering higher education.

University students will be the largest part of any total, but calculations for participation rates will not be limited to those following courses at higher education institutions.

The government says that in measuring targets, it will also include people aged 18 to 30, studying for awards from nationally recognised bodies, such as the Institute of Management.

The total will be based on students following courses of one or more years' duration - but the government is also considering including shorter professional qualifications.

The target for 50% participation was announced by the Prime Minister Tony Blair before the general election and has remained a flagship education policy.

Student targets will be based on:
18 to 30 year olds
Courses of one year or more
Awarded by higher education institutions
Awarded by recognised national bodies
Possibly professional qualifications of less than one year
But questions had been asked about what exactly is meant by this 50% target.

The Conservatives have repeatedly asked for a definition.

On Tuesday, the Liberal Democrats also challenged the target.

Would it mean 50% of young people attending a full-time course in university? Or would it be a more broadly-interpreted definition of being a student?

The Department for Education and Skills has now clarified how the target will be calculated - although the final details remain to be determined.

How it is measured

The figure will be based on those aged between 18 and 30 - with the current participation rate set at 41%.

Progress towards the 50% will be measured through the "Initial Entry Rate".

The calculation will include "all courses of one year or more, above A-level and its equivalents, that lead to a qualification awarded by higher education institutions or widely recognised national awarding bodies (such as the Institute of Management)".

The government is also considering including a "small number of professional qualifications of less than one year's duration, for example in nursing, law, business and management".

"We are currently seeking advice from the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority as to whether the nature and content of these qualifications could appropriately be classified as being of a higher education standard."

Labour intensive

The Shadow Minister for Higher Education, Alistair Burt, said he had first asked the government to define "higher education experience" last October 25.

"I received no answer," he said.

"I asked again in a subsequent debate, and submitted a written question.

"After a holding reply I was told on November 26th 2001 that the government was 'currently examining the data' and 'would answer shortly'. I have received no answer yet.

"There are 190 people employed at the DfES on higher education matters. Tomorrow is the 99th day since I asked my question.

"Assuming weekends off and a decent Christmas break, this means that 11,400 person days have already been spent on an answer that should have been an integral part of the target from day one. And we are no nearer the answer."

See also:

29 Jan 02 | Education
Lib Dems challenge college targets
27 Nov 01 | Education
University target 'needs 2bn funding'
11 Jan 02 | Education
Record number enter university
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