Category Archives: News

British Academy President criticises ever “wilder”, “creative destruction” of UK’s Higher Education system

Professor Sir Adam Roberts, President of the British Academy, has criticised the ever “wilder”, “creative destruction” of the UK’s Higher Education system and calls for serious debate and serious reflection in the run-up to the White Paper on Higher Education expected early in 2011.

Read the British Academy statement ‘The Continuing Challenges Facing Higher Education Funding“.

Thursday morning news

Students who drop out of university have been ‘air-brushed’ out of the argument. The Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) points out that those students who drop out without completing a degree will still be liable for the fee.

The reforms will not save public money. Post-1992 University Vice Chancellors argue in a letter in the Telegraph today that ‘Gains made in reducing the deficit by withdrawing public funding for higher education will be cancelled out. In the long term, taxpayers will pay higher loan write-off costs.’

An amendment tabled by Lib Dem MP Greg Mulholland calls on the government to delay the vote until after the publication of a White Paper. It has all-party support.

‘The tactics of the supermarket’

There is a story on the BBC website today on the impact of the removal of the teaching grant on the University of the Creative Arts. It observes that ‘the university is particularly exposed and it is having to turn to the tactics of the supermarket to preserve what it can offer.’

‘A double whammy that will freeze social mobilitiy’

Peter Lampl of the Sutton Trust argues at the Guardian’s Comment is Free that slashing funding while almost trebling fees ‘would be a serious deterrent for those from non-privileged backgrounds’. Cuts to the higher education budget, Lampl argues, were inevitable, what it is at issue is the ‘sheer savageness’ of what the government proposes. He concludes:

‘An almost trebling of tuition fees and a slashing of state support for universities takes us on a journey into the unknown; an unprecedented shot in the dark, with young people’s futures at stake. The double whammy of major cuts to state funding for universities and higher fees is inequitable and is sure to freeze social mobility. That is a bitter legacy for any politician.’

Tuesday afternoon update

Two Tory MPs now look likely to vote against the government in the fees vote on Thursday. According to the BBC, Ilford North MP, Lee Scott will join former shadow Home Secretary David Davis in opposing the rise in the fee cap.

There is a commentary by William Cullerne Brown at the Exquisite Life blog on ‘how to read’ Nick Clegg’s article in today’s Financial Times. One of the key points he makes is that whatever other arguments it may use, the least plausible claim the government can make is that its proposals will provide more financial security for universities. Certainly for those universities unable to recruit sufficient students at the higher fee rate the proposals appear to do the diametric opposite. As Brown says, ‘what could be more secure than the block grant’?

The Guardian reports research showing that class — and therefore also race — are  barriers to Oxbridge entry.

EDIT: It’s now 3 Tories (thanks to the Campaign for the Public University twitter account for the tip-off)

Tuesday morning update

A group of Liberal Democrat MPs are calling for the Commons vote on Thursday to be postponed with a view to a wider review of Higher Education funding, according to reports in the Guardian and the New Statesman. (See also Michael White’s blog today on the Lib Dem split). Lib Dem MP Greg Mulholland is quoted as saying: “Sometimes the most courageous thing to do is to admit you need a rethink.  The best thing for higher education is not to force this vote through on Thursday.”

At Labour List, Jon Wilson criticises the ‘commodification’ of Higher Education.

The Social History Society UK has issued a strongly worded statement opposing the government’s proposals for Higher Education and urging people to sign the Humanities Matter petition

Monday afternoon round-up of news and comment

An article in Research Fortnight argues that the evidence suggests that the government’s proposals to saddle students with £50,000 of debt will deter the poorest students: “a degree should not be the preserve of the rich or the reckless”.

The Campaign for a Public University has an article responding to the news, reported on this site on Friday, that the government’s own analysis shows part-time students will lose out under the proposed funding regime.

The Times Higher reports that UUK has failed in its efforts to get all Vice-Chancellors to sign a letter supporting the fees rise.

Colin Talbot argues on his blog that the government’s rejection of a graduate tax is evidence that their real intention is to create financial competition between universities ‘along US lines’.

Ed Miliband argues that the government’s proposals on Higher Education reform is an act of vandalism that will ‘set back social mobility for a generation’.

Professor Sir Ian Kershaw expresses concern about the “twin effect of the near trebling of university fees and the axing of funding for humanities and social sciences” in a letter in the Guardian.

King’s College Cambridge criticises government’s ‘undue haste’ and endorses call for a Public Commission of Inquiry

The council and the governing body of King’s College, Cambridge, have this week passed resolutions criticising the government’s plans to reform the basis of higher education funding. The College Council agreed a statement stating, ‘We share the anxiety currently expressed by many citizens that the Government’s Higher Education Fee proposals will both limit access to and undermine the quality of Higher Education teaching and research’. The Council also  ‘strongly’ supported the call for a Public Commission of Inquiry. The Governing Body, meeting separately, passed a resolution stating ‘that these proposed changes have the potential to inflict irreversible damage upon our culture of education, learning and research.’ The full text of the resolutions are here. The official position of Cambridge University remains that it will not comment until after the publication of a White Paper. The government is pressing ahead with a vote in the Commons on Thursday to raise the fee cap to £9000. It has not announced a date for a White Paper.

BIS acknowledges that numbers of part-time students will fall if direct teaching grants are removed

The Guardian reports this morning that the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) has produced an “impact assessment” of the affect on part-time students of rising fees and removing teaching grants.  The government has argued that part-time students will be beneficiaries of  the reforms because, unlike at present, they will become eligible for fees loans . However, BIS’s own study  says: “We estimate around two-thirds of part-time students will not be eligible for fee loans. At the same time, the withdrawal of the teaching grant might mean that fees are increased across the board (including for students not eligible for fee loans). This could have a negative impact on part-time participation overall.”

Evidence and the Government’s Case

The two most common ways of defending the government’s proposals for transforming the way that university teaching is funded, are (1) that the proposals are ‘progressive’, in such a way that they will not deter poorer applicants, and (2) that they are necessary as part of a deficit reduction strategy. Yet while the media has been understandably focused on the issue of student protests, two almost entirely unreported independent reports have thrown doubt on whether either of these arguments are sustainable.

The Million+ Group and London Economics issued a report this week which concludes that in their current form, the Government’s proposals will lead to 60-65% of graduates being worse-off than under the current system with the greatest impact on middle income earners. Far from being progressive as the government claims, these changes seem likely, the report argues, to limit social mobility.

Meanwhile the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) have produced a study which shows that the government could save no money at all from their reforms. The cuts could even lead to a small increase in the public contribution, HEPI argues, because the government has been too optimistic in its assessment of likely graduate incomes. David Willetts has conceded this week that the 80% (£2.9bn) per annum cut in the teaching grant only saves public money in a narrow accounting sense. Since the income from graduate repayments will take so long, the taxpayer will not benefit from the shift in funding from direct grants to loans throughout this parliament and into the next. As a letter in the Telegraph from academics argued this week, this evidence at the very least weakens the case for immediate, rushed, changes.