The confusion and mess in English higher education

As English universities come to the end of the period during which they have had to decide on what fees they will charge domestic students, it has become clear that pretty well all of them have ignored the UK government’s suggestion that only a small minority should charge the maximum permitted £9,000. In fact of the 16 universities that have declared so far, ten have said they will charge the full £9,000, while the remaining six have all pegged their fees above £6,000. In fact it is now expected that no university in England will hold fees at £6,000 or less.

Meanwhile the British government is facing a serious problem because they had not budgeted for this; the government will have to pay the fees up front before they are, wholly or partially, repaid by the students some time after graduation.

Also, given the stampede of universities charging fees at or near the maximum level, the agency established to ensure that the institutions have viable access policies (the Office for Fair Access) will be in real difficulty as it does not have the staffing to manage the unexpected volume of business.

It is hard to avoid the conclusion that this situation has not been handled well either by the government (which looks amateurish in all of this and naive in not having anticipated what has happened) or by the universities (which look unimaginative and greedy).

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4 Comments on “The confusion and mess in English higher education”

  1. Helen Says:

    It is indeed a farcical mess. The British universities have handled their PR badly; they do appear greedy and unimaginative, but should be trumpeting far more loudly that the UK government has, almost uniquely in the developed world I think, washed its hands of paying for most undergraduate teaching.

    Meanwhile, prospective students are being told that their £9,000 per annum will not even be spent on them, but that a significant proportion will go towards bursaries, thus ensuring that their courses are underfunded despite their astronomical debt burden. It is ludicrous.

  2. Mary B Says:

    Sadly, isn’t that what you get when ‘market forces’ ONLY drive Higher Education? There needs to be some strategy for balancing education needs with money making needs. Didn’t Keats call the ability to live with ambiguity ‘negative capability’? (Well, he did, ‘cos I’ve just been reading about it!) HE needs to have both a ‘customer focus’ AND a ‘learner focus’. It’s NOT just about the money!!

    • I think there is some truth in what you say, Mary. However, I’m not sure that the UK government really did focus on market forces – the whole thing is too incoherent for that.

  3. Andy Says:

    Then of course there was the sheer naivete of the Tories thinking that the universities wouldn’t charge the maximum… Aye right.

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