Education, Education, Education : Cost, Cost, Cost

Whats the word I am looking for ? Chutzpah ? Brass Neck ? Arrogance ? Yet again, the coalition government are launching into an extra-ordinarily radical reform agenda with no mandate whatsoever. I refer of course to the appearance of David Willetts this morning on the Today programme, trailing the HE White Paper that isn’t even out yet. You can listen to the interview here, and read summaries from the Guardian and the THE; and here is the opposition response from, John Denham.  The pitch is (i) More power to the student with the money ! (ii) More competition please ! (iii) More concentration on teaching quality !  (iv) More information so students can decide !

Some concrete ideas seem to be (i) Remove the quota on places. (ii) Universities must publish information on employment outcomes of degrees (iii) Universities must publish data on contact hours. (iv) Universities must account for how they use fees. (v) Courses that employers don’t like should be scrapped.

Why is this happening ? Whats broke that needs fixing ? Well partly its the good old “profit motive fixes everything”, but mostly its about COSTS. Government wants large fraction of people to have HE. But can’t afford this from public purse. So get universities to charge the customer. But this is impossible for most families  unless big loans are available, so government has to cough up in first instance. Mega cash flow problem unless universities bring in full fees a little bit slower please. Ooops. Everybody wants to charge 9000 NOW. Ok. Only option is force some universities to get cheaper. Drive them into competition and let some go to the wall unless they develop cut price versions.

I am not sure I am totally against more university competition. But please don’t believe any of the bollocks about improving student experience etc. Its exactly the opposite. The whole thing only adds up if some universities are dirt cheap, and offer an experience to match. OK, so this is a real option. Lets be open minded. But lets call a pig a pig.

If you are upset enough, you can sign a no confidence petition here.

Oh .. and .. anybody know what will happen in Scotland ?

5 Responses to Education, Education, Education : Cost, Cost, Cost

  1. MikeW says:

    I share your aghastness (if that’s a word). It is indeed total bollocks Time to emigrate, retire or become an activist ((or all three) We do of course already have choice and competition in abundance already, a point the coalition seem to have ignored.

  2. Monica Grady says:

    The bit I didn’t like the most, out of all the bits I didn’t like, is the idea that courses that employers don’t like should be scrapped. I suppose a first from Oxford in PPE is valued by employers. As would a degree in golf-course management be valued by an employer of golf-course managers. But university is so much more than churning out potential employees. It’s about development, independence, opportunities for 18 year olds to mature, exploring new subjects, etc, all the good things that we know about. I suppose it doesn’t sound too great in times of hardship, that going to university is a time of fun, where you make friends that will last a lifetime.

    My feeling is that all 18 year olds should have such an opportunity, regardless of ability. But not necessarily at univ., as that isn’t a route that suits everyone. How to fund this? Dunno, I’m a mere scientist. Maybe if I’d done PPE, I could propose a workable, fair and equitable solution? Nope, that doesn’t seem to be happening either.

  3. Monica Grady says:

    That is only partly true, and is why, when the OU was first set up, it didn’t take any students under the age of 25, the assumption being that they would go to a “conventional” uni. Our market was those who had missed out – we were ‘the university of the second chance’, in effect the first private uni, where (mature) undergraduate students paid for themselves. They could, and did, develop independence and explored new subjects – see the film ‘Educating Rita’ for an exaggerated, but faithful in principle, depiction of how we used to work.
    Now, the landscape is different, and the OU operates in a slightly different way (no more kipper-tied lecturers in flared trousers and tank tops talking astrophysics at midnight on BBC2). Social networking, electronic fora, tutorials via elluminate, etc, mean that our undergrads interact virtually. It isn’t the ‘leaving home’ experience of a conventional uni, but it does generate lasting friendships between students, and all the other things I said in my earlier comment. The OU has come top for student satisfaction for the last three years in the NSS. It is also affordable: an OU degree costs about £5000, spread over around 5 years – just a tad cheaper than the £9000 per year that many universities will be charging soon. This is why the OU is taking part in UCAS fairs this year, with a view to being part of UCAS in the future. And, for good measure, all OU course materials are downloadable for free through iTunes uni.

    This reply is (a) long and (b) away from the subject matter of your original blog, for which I apologize. But I wanted to illustrate that the OU can and does do most of the things that a conventional uni does.

  4. Nick Cross says:

    In terms of what might happen in Scotland, I presume that if the SNP get their wish and Scotland becomes independent it will be illegal under EU laws for Scottish universities to charge different fees to English students than to other EU students. I don’t think that this is a particularly likely scenario though.

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