Follow the money?

Here’s a thing. YouGov-Cambridge recently carried out a survey of 4,000 people exploring British attitudes to higher education (though this may have been English rather than ‘British’).  When respondents were invited to identify the word that most closely described higher education, this is the world cloud that came up.

What should concern us in this is not just the identification of cost as the most important factor, but the fact that ‘knowledge’ and ‘learning’ are amongst the almost invisible terms.

Of course England has its own specific issues in the aftermath of the funding reform there, and some might argue that this would play differently elsewhere. I might have some doubts that it would. Money has become the key point of discussion, and while funding is of course necessary in order that universities can offer excellent programmes and research, it is the means rather than the end.

It is vital that the public debate around higher education is not just seen as money talk. For that to work, of course, the major money concerns of the sector must be addressed. But the universities themselves need to ensure that what they are putting into the public domain is not just all about funding. It is time to expand the debate.

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10 Comments on “Follow the money?”

  1. Vincent Says:

    Oh come on. The money needs of your sector couldn’t be sated if the entire output of the economy was devoted to you. In this you are like the civil service.
    And as to knowledge’ and ‘learning. You’ll find that with most other commentators within your sector the focus is on watchmaking and watchmakers rather than astral navigation. It’s time you all clubbed together and made a ‘tomorrows world’ remembering that you are in the hope game and as such just a few steps back along the road from selling indulgences.

  2. Eddie Says:

    Let us remind ourselves, what Daily Telegraph said just a few days ago:
    “Warning as universities operate ‘two-tier’ clearing system”
    (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/universityeducation/8705096/Warning-as-universities-operate-two-tier-clearing-system.html)

    RGU is one of these universities DT lists. While notifying on their websites that ” clearing ” is not available, these universities welcomed “clearing” enquiries from non-EU students. Money talks!

    • Wendymr Says:

      Well, as the very article you cite points out, this is hardly a situation of the universities’ making:

      Universities currently face fines of more than £3,000 for every British and EU student recruited beyond strict limits set by the Government. Some 19 universities were penalised a total of £8.1m last year.

      But they can recruit unlimited numbers of foreign students who can be charged up to eight times more than those from Britain. At one university, foreign undergraduates pay more than £26,000 a year for laboratory-based subjects.

      Blame government policy, not the universities who have no choice other than to operate within in.

      • Eddie Says:

        You did not understand the point at all! Before blaming money, look around and see what your own backyard is doing.,

  3. s button Says:

    Value for money is the key issue and if an institution is not delivering value for money then it should be closed down.

    If I was paying 9k per annum I would be dammed careful not to attend any of the more dubious institutons offering made up courses. As a Government I would be putting drastic pressure on Unis to get their act together.

  4. no-name Says:

    It appears to be true that the need for knowledge is unbounded, and if people have rational reactions to needs, it follows that hunger for education cannot be sated. This appears to be the opposite of the civil service, in general, though. There are fishery quotas, for example, and if everyone is put in prison, no one is left to run government or the prisons.

    Suppose that it were made a requirement that prospective gardai had to first earn a second class honor, or higher, in a third-level subject within science and engineering or in languages, but in either case, after having secured a B or better in the honors mathematics examinations. Perhaps a version of this could be applied retrospectively, too (since it seems each branch of government must now find another 15-20% of savings [http://www.finfacts.ie/irishfinancenews/article_1022983.shtml — link verified August 25, 2011] — and retro-fitting the leaving certificate qualification might provide a helpfully arbitrary means of deciding some redundancies), with some sort of facilities put into place for adult education.

    Just as many people would feel a bit more secure if their doctors had embarked on their studies in medicine after an undergraduate qualification in sciences, many in society would also feel a bit safer if they knew with certainty that their police were more educated than most of the current population of prison inmates. If in fact, on average, gardai are more highly educated than the current population of prison inmates in Ireland, given the entry requirements for An Garda Síochána, this would count as a strong argument for increasing the proportion of government investment in education for the general public.

    [Current education requirements of An Garda Síochána: http://www.garda.ie/Controller.aspx?Page=332&Lang=1&PersistList=1&PersistPage=213 — link verified August 25, 2011]

    It is reasonable to imagine that activities which originated in universities have led to more expansions of GDP than activities that originated in prisons. The Irish Government budget estimates for the year ending December 31, 2011 allocated for the non-capital element of third level education 1,638,536,000 euro. In comparison, garda (at 1.41 billion), DPP (0.04 billion), and prisons (0.33 billion) are allocated 1,784,255,000 euro. By this analysis, one could argue that the Irish government gives less importance to third-level education than to putting people in prison. This is in face of strong indicators that increased levels of education correlate with decreased levels of violent crime.

    Continuing with this analysis, the extent to which the government of Ireland can argue that it values educating people more than imprisoning them is the extent to which it can claim that the spin-off effects of its investments in research (for example, under the heading “Enterprise Development, Science and Technology” — 774,646,000 euro) include subsidies for the cost of third-level education.

    If indulgences are insurance policies against the need for absolution, then indulging this sector is somewhat effective in that purpose, with the added advantage of correlating with sustained GDP expansion, something that does not accompany indulging all sectors.

  5. Jeff W Says:

    Forgetting that people are naturally loss averse, if expensive is the word people think of, rather than knowledge or learning, I guess they don’t feel like they are getting fair value for money. The egregious fees associated with higher education are probably only half the story. I’m sure there is a lot that post-secondary institutions could due to focus on delivering more value, even if it’s just more attentive professors who have an active interest in the success of their students (but maybe that’s too much to ask).

    Either way, what people feel is valid. You cannot deny reality.

  6. Don Says:

    Look, if you surveyed British/Scottish/Ukrainian/whoever attitudes to most publicly-funded bodies that require some input from the proletariat, you’ll get the conclusion that is is EXPENSIVE. Buses, trains, school uniforms, school dinners, car tax, Council Tax – all too expensive. Ferdinand, what’s your agenda here? Of course it’s seen as expensive – it always will be to those who can’t / won’t pay and to those who think it should be free (i.e. someone else should pay).

  7. cormac Says:

    Interesting result. Given the recent change in the UK, I would read ‘expensibve’ as expensive to those who are now contemplating going to college or their kids….(or is it mainly the taxpayer ? be interesting to know what word cloud ‘war in iraq’ generates).
    I guess 4 -6 years unpaid labour, with living costs and fees borrowed is not a cheap undertaking…but it’s still nowhere near the madness of the US system


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