Interesting times for English universities

Over the past few days, the British Minister of State for Universities and Science has been making various statements designed to map out the future direction of English higher education. On November 3 he made a statement to the House of Commons in which he explained the government’s decision to allow an increase in tuition fees, without lifting the cap completely. The standard ceiling will now be £6,000, with fees ‘n ‘exceptional cases’ permitted up to £9,000. This will not take the form of a payment on entry, but rather a repayment on graduation after pay exceeds a threshold of £21,000. He explained the payment system as follows:

‘We are also proposing a more progressive repayment structure. At present graduates start repaying when their income reaches £15,000. We will increase the repayment threshold to £21,000, and will thereafter increase it periodically to reflect earnings. The repayment will be 9% of income above £21,000, and all outstanding repayments will be written off after 30 years. Raising the threshold reduces the monthly repayments for every single graduate.’

Then the minister also addressed a meeting of Universities UK in which he explained that the upper cap of £9,000 would only apply where universities made special access arrangements for disadvantaged students. Interestingly, the minister also laid emphasis on his desire to have private higher education providers enter the market, and for growth in higher education provision by further education colleges. He described the new world of higher education as follows:

‘First of all there is a serious requirement of widening access. Secondly, universities shouldn’t underestimate the competitive challenge they will face. I have a stream of new providers who believe that there is potential to offer an alternative. I believe that the challenge for universities is to look very carefully at their costs, not simply assume [they can] take today’s costs and put them into the new world.’

Clearly the British government intends to change English higher education quite fundamentally. It is still too early to see for sure how the changes will look, but clearly there will be a major emphasis on competition, both between institutions and between types of institutions. Whether the system can flourish on that basis rather remains to be seen.

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4 Comments on “Interesting times for English universities”

  1. copernicus Says:

    We live in London and to the credit to the present coalition government, they have addressed the funding issues of universities and the student fee without any fudge and deceit. Times have changed and “no fee” situation will melt away as Scotland tries to deny the situation staring at them. There is no stomach for any English government to increase the pot of funds given to Scotland.

    I like the competition from local colleges and the private providers. There are already colleges like Winchester College which runs its own degrees and many colleges will do so in the near future. They will likely to cut the fee by 50%, offering the students a choice. The losers will be post-92s where weaker students tend to go and they have to lower the fee below £6000 to compete with colleges and this will shrink them. If this spreads to Scotland, think for example, the Aberdeen College which supplies students to RGU mostly and to U of Aberdeen lately, running its own degee courses.

    The piublic, after the 2 student demonstration, are in favour of increased fees. The government will comforatbly win the votes in the Houses of Parliament, even though there may be a strong opposition. But Labour introduced the tuition fee a few years ago. TheHE landscape has changed for ever. We will be looking American style colleges offering their own degrees.

  2. wendymr Says:

    I hope that, if private higher education providers are to be encouraged in England and Wales as Willetts wishes, a lot of care is taken over the regulatory framework. A lot can be learned from the Canadian experience, where private career colleges are licensed by the relevant provincial ministry but there is little or no regulation beyond that. The colleges offer programs which they describe as ‘fast-track’ versions of what is available in community colleges (IT, community services, early childhood education, healthcare programs) but fail to inform intending students that these courses are not equivalent to the community college versions and in some cases aren’t even recognised by professional regulatory bodies where the occupations are regulated. Programs also cost around three times the fees of a community college. So a student, having invested a lot of money (or incurred a loan) to get a qualification in early childhood education then discovers that the regulatory body does not recognise their diploma and they can’t get a job in the field.

    Even where occupations aren’t regulated, private college graduates struggle to find work in their field – I have had employers say privately to me an even openly in seminars I organised that they will not hire a private college graduate (unless that person has a lot of relevant work experience, in which case it’s the experience they’re recognising, not the qualification).

    Searching online for reviews of private colleges by graduates (not easy to find, as the head offices of the colleges – which are mostly operated through franchises – appear to get these removed) shows a lot of self-directed learning as opposed to the small class sizes and student-focused tuition they’re promised, very high dropout rates and poor facilities. One client told me that the year she took her laboratory technology course the lab was under construction so she got no hands-on experience at all – and then her work placement was in a veterinary practice where she also did no lab work and spent most of her time doing laundry.

    Yet these private colleges continue to get students, because of aggressive advertising and cold-calling, particularly targeted to newcomers to Canada who often come from countries where private provision is generally superior to public, but also targeted to Canadian-born people who never got their high school diploma so can’t get into a community college. The private colleges will accept anyone who can pay their fees, regardless of their ability (educational attainment or language level) to complete the course.

  3. cormac Says:

    Is that £9000 p.a.?

  4. copernicus Says:

    There seems to be some confusion here. Private providers fit nto validate and run their own degrees are private universities a few of them will be coming up. Current private colleges in Britain cannot award their own degrees but has to prepare students for degrees courses for a public university to which they have links. But what Willetts is thinking is to let public colleges which currenly run diploma courses, run degrees validated by English Exam boards like Edexcel.

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