How the tuition fees report will restrict choice and make universities powerless


12:45 pm - October 16th 2010

by Guest    


      Share on Tumblr

contribution by margin4error

It has gone largely un-noticed that Lord Browne’s report would take power from universities, reduce student choice and bar many from study.

Way down on page 33 he proposes a benchmark of UCAS points above which all students qualify for finance. The government could move the level according to its desired student numbers or budget.

We recognise that Government needs some control over the allocation of student places to manage its budgets effectively.

This could see finance removed from many students under the guise of supporting only those with enough ‘talent’. (The untalented rich could of course still pay to attend). Worse still, many forms of study and highly relevant career experience qualify for no UCAS points. The report pays lip service to this problem but doesn’t overcome it.

The big problem though, is what happens to the unfashionable (new?) university with a good technical degree that draws in local students hoping to save money by staying at home?

Take textile design. That degree leads to careers as diverse as visual merchandising and web-design. It often draws on students with talents not traditionally well recognised by academia. So what if nine applicants hit the UCAS benchmark while the university needs twelve to cover the cost?

Lord Browne’s response to that problem is this.

institutions that are failing to attract students are not funded year on year and popular institutions are able to expand.

In other words the course closes and those nine talented young people face a choice.
a) Expensively studying what might be a weaker but equivalent course at a more fashionable (old?) university far from home.

b) Stay local and study something more generic that they are less suited to, accepting much reduced future rewards for them and the economy.

c) Wait and hope the course restarts next year.

The trouble is of course that the last option isn’t an option. Once a course closes, its teaching staff leave and the cost and risk of trying to restart becomes prohibitively high.

That is a big big problem. Diversity of higher education courses, especially at universities that serve their local community well, needs to expand as it is. Lord Browne would see more generic degrees replace specialist ones, and a concentration of the remaining specialist courses in fewer universities.

That goes against his report’s professed aim of promoting choice and competition. It goes against the interests of students. And it goes against the national interest.

    Share on Tumblr   submit to reddit  


About the author
This is a guest post.
· Other posts by


Story Filed Under: Blog ,Education

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.


Reader comments


D) Increased support for the Open University and others. Not, perhaps, applicable in cases where particularly specialised (read: expensive) equipment is needed but on others the costs would be so reduced that materials could be bought and savings still made, I’ll bet.

2. gastro george

That’s one irony of the choice agenda – you often end up with no, unattainable or impossible-to-work-out choice.

All a lot of nonsense. The Conservatives are in Government and the Lib-Dems are only there on a ‘top-up’ basis Parliamentry seat basis.

Even old fashioned (original) Liberals like me are now thinking about Labour as a serious option. Opinions please ?

I think there was always a cut-off in terms of minimum qualifications for a grant. It wasn’t very high (2Es?) but the principle is not new.

I’ve just looked at this report – and see that on page 34 there seems to be a mechanism to (partly) get round the problem you identify.

Sarah

Page 34 is where it pays lip service to the problem of people with qualifications or experienced that don’t result in UCAS points – it doesn’t deal at all with the larger problem of specialised courses concentrating in a smaller number of universities and being largely replaced by more generic studies.

Jimmy

A cut off point for the grant would be bad enough – a cut off for all and every aspect of funding, in particular that which goes to the university – is a much bigger problem.

Ben

Sadly as you say, courses with relatively costly equipment often see open university students use facilities on an occasional basis at a local university – which would become less an option (as explained).

Also, as the report makes no mention of Open University in this section I don’t know if it would be effected by this funding problem too.

But in theory it could definately help people study cheaply the many more generic courses that would proliferate under such a funding system.

The problem as I see it is that we need more, not fewer, people studying the less generic courses.

Page 34 is where it pays lip service to the problem of people with qualifications or experienced that don’t result in UCAS points –

Of course this stuffs up the status of mature students (21+), unless Browne either expects students to wait until they’re over 21 (at which point the university can waive the formal entry requirement) or not bother trying at all. (Though I wonder if part-time study could get round that problem)

Besides which, all universities currently set their own entry tariffs which is why ‘Footlights College, Oxbridge’ asks for 3As and ‘Holby Met’ asks for less.

This is a good example of the problems with the proposals, which need to be communicated along with the issue of fees.

In effectively privatising non-science courses through fees, it has made student recruitment the only measure of value and efficiency in the sector. Every English university, including the self-styled, ‘elite’ who considered research excellence the best indicator of status, must now have to maximise student numbers and concentrate on undergraduate provision. The old hierarchy of teaching and research that tends to dominate discussion of English HE begins to come apart here, as customer satisfaction (not to say solvency) becomes the only game in town for the humanities. You’re right to speak up for specialised degrees of small institutions; some of the Russell Group’s enthusiasts may also need to think about their own future prospects.

At the same time, the report proposes that the future HE council sets the terms and conditions of contact hours for science courses as a condition of subsidy. This brings central government into the front line academic world in ways which would offend old liberals and neo-liberals alike.I suspect Browne’s own master-plan is really to shift provision of HE from the university as civic institution to the university as a branch knowledge-industry, but for the moment I would like UCU to get its act together and step up to this.

@sorge – which in turn leads to a further contradiction as every university will have a vested interest in hoovering up as many students as it can, which either there will be one or more universities which lose out, or recruiting students with lower entry points (which would be okay if there was a commitment/funding to support them, but there’s no chance of that happening under the current circumstances)

You can forget about any loopholes on page 34 etc … this lot will shut them all down. Only the best universities and colleges will be able to safeguard their funding.

Redpesto

The key is that universities right now can set their own requirements – and so some one with no UCAS points but plenty of relevent experience or qualifications outside the normal academic route can be let in by a university.

And the government trusts that judgement and provides the appropriate funding for the course and the student.

This move would effectively end that and the government would be saying it knows better who is able to pass each individual degree than universities do.

Which is clearly nuts.

And while part time study isn’t mentioned in this regard, it would seem probable that it is included in the change. After all, if it were to be an exception the report might say so.

sorge

Bringing government into decision about how to teach in higher education is just another interventionist move that should send a shiver down the spines of students and lecturers alike. There is, simply, no basis on which a government could know best who is able to pass a particular exam or how best that exam might be taught.

Ted

you forgot to put the word ‘best’ in quote marks to emphasise that what is deemed “best” in one (rather simplistic) sense is not thus best for everyone and every area of study.

After all – as many people in the sector point out – A mechanical engineering degree from Brunel is considered by many european firms to be the “best” available in the UK in regards to preparing young people for their career. But Brunel would not, presumably, be deemed one of the “best” universities alongside Cambridge – which does engineering too.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    How the tuition fees report will restrict choice and make universities powerless http://bit.ly/a7t8lj

  2. Luke Homer

    How the tuition fees report will restrict choice and make universities powerless | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/Kmx98j0 via @libcon

  3. Nigel Shoosmith

    RT @libcon: How the tuition fees report will restrict choice and make universities powerless http://bit.ly/a7t8lj

  4. Naadir Jeewa

    Reading: How the tuition fees report will restrict choice and make universities powerless: contribution by margin4… http://bit.ly/amxAbf

  5. Hazico_Jo

    RT @libcon: How the tuition fees report will restrict choice and make universities powerless http://bit.ly/a7t8lj

  6. Paul Hufton

    The Browne report wouldn't create market conditions in universities | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/Xne94du via @libcon

  7. Nina

    How the tuition fees report will restrict choice and make universities powerless | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/OALiJ6e via @libcon

  8. sunny hundal

    How the tuition fees report will restrict choice and make universities powerless http://t.co/RbAa9bf

  9. Natacha Kennedy

    RT @sunny_hundal: How the tuition fees report will restrict choice and make universities powerless http://t.co/RbAa9bf

  10. Gordon Gibson

    RT @sunny_hundal: How the tuition fees report will restrict choice and make universities powerless http://t.co/RbAa9bf

  11. Jennifer O'Mahony

    RT @sunny_hundal: How the tuition fees report will restrict choice and make universities powerless http://t.co/RbAa9bf

  12. Martin Crozier

    RT @sunny_hundal: How the tuition fees report will restrict choice and make universities powerless http://t.co/RbAa9bf

  13. Jane Ayres

    RT @libcon How the tuition fees report will restrict choice and make universities powerless http://bit.ly/a7t8lj

  14. Ames J C

    RT @libcon: How the tuition fees report will restrict choice and make universities powerless http://bit.ly/a7t8lj

  15. Pucci Dellanno

    RT @libcon: How the tuition fees report will restrict choice and make universities powerless http://bit.ly/a7t8lj

  16. Rach

    Interesting analysis of the Browne report by my good friend and former boss, who hasnt paid me to promote his work… http://tiny.cc/m5s94





Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.