The English way of doing things

So there it is, then. The final day came and went for universities in England to declare if they were proposing to charge fees in excess of £6,000, and a number came forward, mostly as we have come to expect declaring they will charge £9,000 (the upper limit permitted by the government). Some made a point of declaring their intentions to do all sorts of good things for access students from some of the proceeds, and some pointed out how hard (apparently) it had been to take this decision.

What happens now is not easy to see.  The British government clearly did not anticipate how its new funding framework would operate, and seems to have been taken by surprise by something almost everyone predicted, and may also be in some denial. The universities in turn have behaved with very little imagination and innovation in setting fees. The declaration by the 1994 Group of universities that these fees are really all in the students’ interests may not seem obvious to every one of those students.

But more than anything else, most of those observing the events in England may be driven to conclude that this looks like a higher education system that has money rather than education at the heart of its strategy. That would be an unfair conclusion, but both the government and the universities have done little to dispel it.

In the meantime, the reason why those of us working in higher education elsewhere in the UK might also be concerned about all this is because what has happened in England may affect our financial stability and moreover may affect our reputation, as international observers don’t always realise that the new funding and fees framework in England does not apply in, say, Scotland. The confusion in England is bad for all of us.

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4 Comments on “The English way of doing things”

  1. anna notaro Says:

    *But more than anything else, most of those observing the events in England may be driven to conclude that this looks like a higher education system that has money rather than education at the heart of its strategy. That would be an unfair conclusion…*
    I think that would be exactly a ‘fair’ conclusion to draw, it is hard to dispute in fact that what has happened in England has been driven, inspired and dictated by economic factors facilitated by the current economic crisis of course, but ultimately the product of a distinctive philosophy with regards to the role, identity and functions of universities. As it has been argued in previous comments this is by no means a recent phenomenon, it has taken years for the virus to gradually spread and affect the whole body of the university, its main organs, its own language. University leaders are now chief executives (and they regard themselves as such!) management speak has become part of ordinary academic communication (even the number of managers in universities has grown exponentially), the same name ‘university’ tends to be replaced by terms like ‘knowledge organizations’ (if universities had problems in explaining to the public what they were about when they saw themselves as such, one wonders what people would understand by ‘knowledge organizations’!)
    accountability,transparency, modernization have been used as justifications to accept and comply…money is not the enemy of universities of course, one would be a fool not to recognize how valuable it is for such (public)institutions to forge links with industries, the private sector etc., it is just ironic (if not tragic) that a reform of higher education with money at its core, like the one realized in England, is now affecting the financial stability of the whole system!

  2. kevin denny Says:

    What I found interesting was the declaration of U.Teeside’s VC that they were going to charge £8.5k: otherwise the students might feel they were getting a sub-standard education.
    http://kevindenny.wordpress.com/2011/04/19/university-education-as-a-snob-good/


  3. […] “So there it is, then. The final day came and went for universities in England to declare if they were proposing to charge fees in excess of £6,000, and a number came forward, mostly as we have come to expect declaring they will charge £9,000 (the upper limit permitted by thew government) …” (more) […]

  4. Mary B Says:

    I’m a UCU member and it frustrates me that the HE unions in general are happy to take action to protest about fee increases, but have not obviously challenged the commodification of HE, which caused the problem in the first place, IMO. It’s like complaining about the symptoms without tackling the cause. If a graduate or postgrad qualification is regarded as an investment by the individual student towards getting a ‘better’ i.e. better paid job, it’s not surprising that VCs are seeing it as a business proposition to up the fees. But if a (good) university education for many is regarded as an investment in our progress as a good society, how should that be costed??


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