More on student fees; our readers speak

We generally stay off political matters, but we had such great comments on last weekend's piece about student fees that I have to come back to this to highlight some of the points made.  Interesting that while it was a very small sample, no-one was positive about the changes.  And what a couple of people pointed out is that this  will have some real 'market' effects - so I guess that brings it into scope of Spend Matters, and I don't have to feel guilty about crossing boundaries!  As Philip Orunwense pointed out,

We could also see a real exodus of home grown, capable, intelligent and competent students migrating into other countries where the costs of higher eduction is affordable when compared to what we have to pay here in England – this could mean taking up domicile in Scotland, sending our wards to the US, Canada and such other countries that can offer similar levels of training at affordable costs – the net effect of this is that our future brains could become permanently lost to these host countries.

He also suggested that we may see a growth again in vocational training - I'm with him on this, and as he says, "a return to real craftsmanship is not a bad thing"! This has some interesting implications for procurement leaders actually, CIPS and training / education provider sin our sector; something to return too later I think.

Kevin Potts from the US made the point that "helping students get a college education is much more of an investment than a cost in my opinion" - they pay more tax in the long run for a start.

Christine Morton was as direct as ever: "I support the education system far, far more in this country than I do the bank bailouts". Yes, it does seem funny how we can find £76 billion to buy shares in RBS and Lloyds but have to screw another few billion year out of the pockets of the next generation of students...

'Kevin' made a couple of excellent points, which we can relate to demand management and (stretching things a bit) to getting the specification right in  professional terms.  And as we all know, demand management can be an excellent way of reducing costs;

50% plus people now go to University. Is this too many, about right or not enough? The government could reduce the tertiary education budget in several ways. One way that hasn’t been widely discussed would be to close 50 of the current 150 UK universities and spend the budget on the remaining 100. That way 35% ish of the population would still attend Uni but at no increase in tuition fees..... As a nation we’re not able to create graduate level jobs for 50% of the population.  Far too many graduates end up in low paid jobs that they could have attained with less qualifications yet will have significant student debt. A double whammy.

This raises something for me - why has the coalition rushed into this?  Kevin's point about alternatives is totally valid, and the coalition does seem to have just jumped into 'we have to raise money' mode here without much debate or selling of the benefits.

John Latchford suggests the old 'polytechnics' may not have made the right choice.

Remember that no-one forced the Polytechnics & specialist colleges to convert to become Universities – the academics decided they wanted to – and it seems to me that in doing so they massively widened their range of courses, increased their fixed costs, and increased the salaries of Vice Chancellors – the average VC salary in the Russell Group of Universities is now over £270,000 – I am sure some must be worth this much – but are they all?

And in case you think this is a left / right political issue (I confess; I voted at the election for the current Education Minister, who is my local MP and I like a lot), then read Fraser Nelson, the somewhat right of centre editor of the Spectator, here.


First Voice

  1. Flog:

    Writing as a parent of two children who’ve been through the university system. 1 finished and, while he has his degree, he would have been better following a vocational route – however, peer pressure – everyone else was going to uni); the second, just finishing her second u’grad because she didn’t get into Social Work first time.
    My big question – from a procurement angle – is value for money and fit for purpose. I’m around students quite a bit in a voluntary capacity helping out at the local university’s sports club (giving something back – something of value I hope). I’ve listened to current and recently graduated students discussing classes, the interest and quality of the teaching etc – brought on by the student fees debates.
    I do not get the feeling that they would consistently score their received service provision as excellent.
    On Friday night, at a dinner, I was speaking to a number of our students that are studying for a semester or full year in Amercia – it’s like chalk and cheese – they’re enthusiased, bubbling, they’re eyes shinning as they talk about their lecturers, courses, tutorials, pastoral care etc. I know I have some fond memories of being inspired by some of my undergrad maths lecturers and, more so, by my procurement masters lecturers. My lecturers were sound, knowledgeable even interesting – however, never, would I describe them as inspirational.
    So, to tie this in with the blog – I agree with Philip’s comment – if my kids were starting out again – I think I would engourage them to ‘go away’ to somewhere where there is, based upon the limited information currently in my possession, a much better quality of service provided.
    Perhaps, one good thing that may come out of the ‘no up-front fees’ and the ability to charge up to £9k. Is that market forces will come into play, perceived VFM, quality of service provision will force HE to focus on how it delivers and helps to mould our future generations. I’d love to be listening to UK HE students that are continuously enthusing about what they were studying during the week and not sounding like they’re dragging themselves into lectures or, more concerning, not bothering to go with a ‘I can read up the notes and articles in my own time and learn more than sitting in that boring lecturer’.

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