UNIVERSITY research funding should be focused on expensive science-based subjects, the Business Secretary will say today.
Lord Mandelson is due to publish a new blueprint on the future of the UK’s universities which will set out the priorities for the sector and comes before a review of the student funding system is due to begin.
He is expected to say that universities will play a major role in helping the country’s economic recovery in the future.
The framework will examine the issues facing universities at a time when funding is becoming tighter. This is expected to include looking at "a greater concentration of high level research, particularly in high-cost science areas".
And it is likely to set out how the Government will work with universities to strengthen the economy.
The framework is also widely expected to say that students should be treated like "consumers" and given more information about courses, including information on contact hours and drop-out rates and future earnings.
Speaking at a CBI Higher Education summit in London two weeks ago, Lord Mandelson said students should be "pickier" about their university choices, saying they should be more demanding to boost quality in higher education.
At the same conference he warned that if students are expected to pay more for higher education they are entitled to receive more from the system.
The comments fuelled speculation that the Government will consider raising the £3,225 cap on tuition fees.
He said: "It’s a change in culture and attitude that we want to encourage.
"As students who go into higher education pay more, they will expect more and are entitled to receive more in terms not just of the range of courses but in the quality of experience they receive during their time in the higher education system."
He said Government and industry will need to be more demanding and to monitor and scrutinise more on behalf of students.
At the same conference Lord Mandelson suggested that universities, courses or even lecturers which fail to live up to students’ expectations will be scrapped.
As well as focusing on offering students value for money, the new framework is likely to outline ways of widening participation at universities and to call for greater collaboration between universities and businesses.
University leaders have called for more funding and a report by vice-chancellors’ umbrella group Universities UK published earlier this year suggested fees could be raised to £5,000 without affecting student numbers.
But such a move to introduce higher fees is likely to be highly unpopular with the public.