The new world of higher education: a ‘supply side revolution’?
For those grappling with the question of what exactly the British government wants to achieve in higher education, here is the answer offered by Daily Telegraph pundit Benedict Brogan, who is thought to have access to Downing Street thinking. What Universities Minister David Willetts, backed by David Cameron, is wanting to introduce, he says, is a ‘supply side revolution’. If you need to stop and think what that actually means, let me draw it out briefly. ‘Supply side’ is an economists’ perspective that suggests that growth will be maximised if barriers to production are lowered, and if restrictions are removed (such as tax, regulation and so forth).
Applied to higher education, this could mean removing restrictions stopping universities from recruiting as many students as they can accommodate. In his blog Brogan suggests that the following is intended:
‘The idea, as I initially heard it, was to consider easing the cap on admissions at the upper level by allowing the top establishments charging the full £9000 to let in more top students – those scoring 2 As and B minimum – than they currently are allowed to. And I’m told another change being contemplated would lift the admissions cap on those universities serving the cheaper end of the market. New institutions inexpensive two year degrees, for example, would be free to allow as many students in as they could cope with.’
How such reforms would work in terms of public funding and public borrowing is not immediately easy to see, unless the government were to adopt policies that would impose no burden on the taxpayer by these universities admitting larger numbers of students. Furthermore, what would happen to the universities in the middle ground who are thought to be neither ‘top establishments’ nor on the ‘cheaper end of the market’? And how could this scheme be arranged without having the ‘top establishments’ also become socially elite institutions largely catering for the rich?
However, if there is a major policy perspective that lies at the heart of the British government decision-making (which for now merely looks chaotic), then it might be a good idea to articulate it clearly rather than releasing it via a journalist’s blog (however important we might think blogs to be). One must presume that it may be stated more clearly in the much delayed White Paper.