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Learning from Dearing

Many of the twists and turns in higher education reform over the past two decades arose because government failed to implement fully the recommendations made by Ron Dearing, who proposed the introduction of tuition fees.

The Dearing report, published 20 years ago this week, stands in a canonical tradition of major reports on higher education which begins with Robbins published back in 1963 and leads on to Lord Browne’s report received by the coalition in 2010.

Robbins was set up to review the entire system of higher education after important decisions had already been taken to create a new more generous system of funding universities and students through nationwide grants. The University Grants Committee was already planning the creation of new universities, but Robbins makes such an eloquent case for growth that those new universities are always associated with him. There is not much about actually how to pay for all this in his report, which is one reason why it is credited with such a civilised tone. His assumption of economic growth of 4 per year a year tends to ease such problems. In the 25 years after Robbins, the growth of higher education was delivered but the question of how to pay for it became ever more acute.

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