Posted tagged ‘Richard Barnett’

A Northern Ireland view

October 23, 2010

As the fall-out from the UK government’s spending review and from the recommendations of the Browne review (Securing a Sustainable Future for Higher Education) continues, the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ulster, Professor Richard Barnett, has strongly attacked the shift from public funding to tuition fees.  Speaking on Tuesday of this week to a group of visiting Northern Ireland politicians, he said:

‘What these fees proposals are about is the privatisation of higher education. That is what a small self-appointed group of self-serving universities have been pushing for over a longer period, and they may now well be getting their way in England. They recruit largely from private schools and do little for widening access… These elitist universities don’t understand the widening access issues that we at the University of Ulster are passionate about. We at Ulster believe that all sections of society should benefit from higher education and not just those with deep pockets.’

It is clear that Professor Barnett feels strongly about this, and it is obviously easier for some universities than for others to manage the implications of rising tuition fees; but it is not clear that his comments are fair. Taxpayer support for wealthier sections in society is not a pre-condition for access programmes for disadvantaged students, as his statement appears to suggest. Targeted financial support for the disadvantaged is ultimately a better bet.

Northern Ireland’s position in all of this has yet to be determined by the Assembly in Stormont, and Professor Barnett’s rather strong language is presumably calculated to influence political thinking. There may also be a fear that some of the University of Ulster’s potential student recruits could, if fees were raised considerably, opt to study in the Republic. This may explain Professor Barnett’s suggestion that English ‘elitist universities’ forming a ‘self-appointed group’ are responsible for the idea that there should be student contributions to funding. Whether that is an objectively reasonable comment is another matter.